Jun 16, 2017

Steve Earle and I Are Fighting: a Review of So You Wanna Be An Outlaw

by Robert Dean

I wanted to start this review talking shit about Steve Earle. I really, really wanted to. He talked trash on Oasis, which offends me because I’m an Oasis fanboy. To wit, I will take my jab by saying Steve’s theme for The Wire is unlistenable. It’s so awful, it makes every fiber of my being weep with sadness; to say it sucks would be a blessing because it’s so terrible; it’s almost as bad as the abortion that is the theme to Justified. (Different topic, but whoever green-lit that song for such a great show is a complete asshole.)

Ok, so I got that off my chest. But, this ain’t about Steve Earle’s distaste for excellent Britpop, nor his terrible theme song rendition, it’s about his new record, So You Wanna Be An Outlaw. And like I said, I wanted to dislike it, I couldn’t. It’s pretty damn solid.

Steve Earle is a workaholic road dog, and that’s worthy of anyone’s respect. After pumping out an impressive 16 records, you’d think the guy would be phoning it in by now, but nope. The guy who refuses to get a haircut is writing better record than anyone on pop country radio.

So You Wanna Be An Outlaw is a collection of songs that range from bummer country ballads to dirty rock and roll foot stompers. It's good to feel the tangibility of the record and see that the dude is still empowered by his craft.

"The Firebreak Line" sounds like it could pour out of any honky tonk from Austin to Memphis where folks two-step to bands playing for beer money, which is exactly what you want out of a Steve Earle record. While his slow jams are quality, Earle is at best when he’s going for it, playing fast, lighting a match.

The Dukes are definitely on their A game in this instance and deliver the goods for each track on the record. "Fixin’ to Die" is bold, filthy and feels more Jack White inspired than anything else on the record, which all told, would be a refreshing combination were it to happen. The spirit of "Fixin’ to Die" doesn’t feel constrained, but loose and almost like a driving rockabilly-cum-snake handling preacher warning the world of its transgressions.

Say what you want about Steve Earle, he’s effective when he’s playing the role of soothsayer, preacher of the madness, the bringer of truths – he’s had that knack for over thirty years, and that’s when he’s at his best. There are no throwaway tracks on So You Wanna Be An Outlaw, which says a lot about the band’s mindset going into the project. Instead of writing a record to use an excuse to hit the road, the songs feel vital, and personal, which bodes well for audiences who’ll head out to see the shows. There’s an underlying attitude, and it’s obvious Earle went into this record with an ear to the ground of what the slices of America feel right now, red and blue states, included.

All in all, the record is solid. So You Wanna Be An Outlaw is absolutely worth a few spins and maybe hitting a show for. You can’t go wrong with Steve Earle firing on all cylinders but damn him, for liking Blur better than Oasis.

You and me, Steve. We’re fighting.

So You Wanna Be An Outlaw is available is all the usual spots.

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