Home' Rhythms Magazine : 2017 Jul-Aug Contents 72 Rhythms
SO YOU WANNABE AN OUTAW
Just townes earle
kIDS IN THE STREET
Steve Earle achieved notoriety years ago when he declared
that “Townes Van Zandt is the best songwriter in the world
and I’ll stand on Bob Dylan’s coffee table in my cowboy
boots and say that.” It was perhaps overzealous praise
but designed to bring attention to a great but neglected
Like Townes did, Earle has battled his own demons but,
unlike his hero, he has managed to win. Overcoming drug
addiction and surviving seven marriages (or vice versa),
Earle has not just burnt the candle at both ends, he has
burnt a whole box of them.
The ultimate triumph is that Earle has emerged into his
seventh decade as one of the finest songwriters in any
genre. He might have idolised Van Zandt, but surely Earle
has now eclipsed him with a body of work that is incredibly
impressive. Steve has also been extraordinarily productive,
releasing four albums in the past six years (five if you count
last year’s album of duets with Shawn Colvin) – not to
mention books, television series appearances and acting in
an off-Broadway play! Does he ever sleep?
Amazingly, Earle has only received one honour at the
annual Americana awards and that was over a decade
ago and was in the Free Speech in Music category. On
the evidence of the last decade he would seem to be the
embodiment of what Americana is all about. Go figure.
So You wannabe An Outlaw arrives a year after the 30th
anniversary of Guitar Town, the album that made Earle
the darling of the New Country movement. (I guess the
modern equivalent is Jason Isbell’s place in the Americana
pantheon.) According to Earle, the inspiration for the latest
album was Waylon Jennings.
“I was out to unapologetically ‘channel’ Waylon as best as I
could,” wrote Earle prior to the album’s release. “This record
was all about me playing on the back pick-up of a ‘66 Fender
Telecaster on an entire record for the first time in my life.”
To emphasise the influence, Earle has recorded a batch of
songs originally recorded by Willie Nelson (who guests on
the title track), Jennings and Billy Joe Shaver. These are
included on the deluxe edition of the album. I think Earle
has established his own outlaw credentials.
The new album was recorded with The Dukes, an outfit
that Earle thinks is his best backing group ever, with key
members Eleanor Whitmore and Chris Masterson playing
a pivotal role (as The Mastersons, they also have their own
new impressive album out).
Apart from Willie, there are guest appearances from
Miranda Lambert (for a duet with Earle on ‘This Is How
It Ends’) and Johnny Bush, who wrote Willie Nelson’s
‘Whiskey River’, on ‘Walkin’ In LA’.
The result is a really gritty recording, very much in the vein
of his previous album Terraplane with Earle sounding like
an archetypal country blues singer. ‘Fixin’ To Die’ might
have come from some long-forgotten Delta blues musician.
Justin Townes Earle, on the other hand, sounds nothing
like his father, which is probably a good thing. There must
be nothing worse than having to live up to unrealistic
expectations. For starters, his voice is much more
mellifluous: he chooses to cover Paul Simon’s ‘Graceland’
and add it as a bonus track, which is weirdly mainstream
but obviously a favourite. It certainly delineates his style
from that of Steve and he is definitely no outlaw.
Justin veers away from his dad’s earthiness into an area that
straddles what might be called ‘country soul’ into rock ‘n’
roll and even a little rhythm and blues. He can even write
a classic country ballad such as ‘Faded Valentine’ (which
you think would be a huge hit in the hands of someone
like Dwight Yoakam) and then turn his hand to the country
blues of ‘Same Old Stagolee’. It is another substantial step
in the younger Earle’s career.
Justin’s ability to jump from style to style is impressive and
makes for a continually interesting recording but it could be
a case of ‘too rock for country and too country for rock’ for
some. It would be unfortunate if this album did not get the
attention it so richly deserves.
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