wed 29/06/2022

CD: Steve Earle & The Dukes - So You Wanna Be An Outlaw | reviews, news & interviews

CD: Steve Earle & The Dukes - So You Wanna Be An Outlaw

CD: Steve Earle & The Dukes - So You Wanna Be An Outlaw

Steve Earle returns to his roots

Steve Earle: a welcome comeback to country music

“So you wanna be an outlaw, better take it from me/ Living on the highway, ain't everything it's supposed to be” sings Steve Earle, a man with no shortage of outlawish credentials, on the opening track of his latest album, with a little help from Willie Nelson.

Recorded in Texas, where Virginia-born Earle did most of his growing up and where he began to play music, So You Wannabe An Outlaw is an acknowledgment of his roots and influences and an “unapologetic” channelling of Waylon Jennings, a fellow Texan with a career as multi-faceted as Earle’s own.

The album’s frame of musical reference is wide: the bluesy “If Mama Could Seen Me”, commissioned by T-Bone Burnett for Nashville, and “Fixin’ to Die”, which Earle describes as “a dark shout from death row”, are part of outlaw mythmaking. “You Broke My Heart” and “Walkin’ in LA” (featuring harmonies by Johnny Bush) tip the Stetson to the sort of country music Earle would have seen on TV as a kid, evocative shades of Nelson, Hank Williams and Patsy Cline. (On “Heart”, Earle sounds eerily like Bob Dylan in his Self Portrait period.) “This is How It Ends”, on which Earle duets with the song’s co-writer Miranda Lambert, is in Dolly Parton/Kenny Rogers territory, while “Sunset Highway” has a Traveling Wilburys feel.

Mournful and evocative, “The Girl on the Mountain” and “Goodbye Michelangelo” are among the album’s highlights, folk balladry showcasing Earle the troubadour whose acoustic picking and plaintive vocal immediately draw the listener in. The latter is an elegiac tribute to his friend and mentor Guy Clark (“Goodbye maestro, Fare thee well/Gone to heaven, been to hell”). In contrast, “The Firebreak Line”, all dirty guitar, tells the story of forest ranger and firefighter Ed Pulaski.

Thirty years after Guitar Town, Earle’s chart-topping debut album that helped define "new country" and which can be seen as a response to Jennings’s Dreaming My Dreams, So You Wannabe An Outlaw is a welcome return to country music by the now New York City-based roots rocker (Earle is working on a stage musical of his 2007 album Washington Square Serenade). Backed as usual by the Dukes, the album features notable work by fiddler Eleanor Whitmore and Ricky Ray Jackson on pedal steel.

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