Jesse Burns, 39, of Lowell, MA, has unparalleled taste in music and wants you to know so. “All country music sucks, so who cares? Only slack jawed Trumpers listen to that crap.” commented the divorced dad of two on a Farce the Music Facebook meme about country music. His comment received one thumbs up, 2 laughing faces, and 8 angry faces.
The meme showed up in his timeline due to a former high school friend Jesse forgot to unfollow sharing it. Incensed that he should be reminded of the mere existence of country music, Mr. Burns made sure to make his high falutin opinion known to all. He has far too refined sensibilities for even one person on earth to think he could listen to the addle brained yawping of sister sexing hillbillies.
“That shit blows ass,” said Burns when we sent him a PM asking politely for some explanation. “LOOOL, you need to get a life, f**king redneck.” Since we couldn’t get Burns to engage in a civil conversation about his disdain of country music, we decided to analyze his supposed stellar taste.
His Facebook profile page was partially public and a recent post bragged excitedly of getting tickets for the upcoming Louder Than Life festival in Kentucky. He specifically mentioned his excitement about seeing those paragons of music, Theory of a Deadman, for the 9th time. He was also hyped about Chevelle, Ghostemane, Sevendust, Pop Evil, Papa Roach, Shaman’s Harvest, and whoever Yungblud is.
Clearly a man of unquestionable artistic preferences, Jesse Burns is far too intelligent and cultured for the inbred idiocy of Kris Kristofferson, or the uneducated foolishness of Merle Haggard, or the bland white trash stylings of Tammy Wynette.
We also found Jesse’s public Spotify playlist entitled “Best Songs Ever.” Prominently featured are the aforementioned Theory of a Deadman who are definitely not a subpar Nickelback cover band. It also includes the stylings of Hinder, Saving Abel, and whatever a Crossfade is. Obviously this man is far too sophisticated for the moonshine swilling moronicness of Guy Clark, or the trailer park platitudes of Dolly Parton, or the barely literate ponderings of Tyler Childers.
At press time, Jesse Burns was cursing at his ex-wife on the phone with a Sam Adams in hand, while Buckcherry blared in the background. But at least he doesn’t like country.
Stars ofmixed martial arts’ premiere promotion will again come out Saturday night, so that means Kevin Broughton & Jeremy Pinnell are back to hold forth on a grab-bag of topics. And our Kentucky troubadour is feeling his oats. Let’s mix it up.
KB: Let's do the pop culture stuff first. We recently posted a video of Tyler Childers fronting Bobby Weir's band, doing one of my favorite Dead songs, "The Greatest Story Ever Told." Not sure I would have pegged Tyler as a Dead Head, but you never know. (I myself saw the Dead for the first time in the Bluegrass State; Freedom Hall, 1989.) Pick one living artist or band you'd love to step on stage and jam with, and the song. (And why?)
JP: How many hippies does it take to screw in a light bulb? None. They just sit around and watch it burn out then they follow it for 30 years. Never understood The Dead or the fascination. Especially when there are people like Freddie King or Albert King. I don’t know, crucify me I guess but you know I’m right.
My pick for a dream performance would probably be with one of the last greatest songwriters, Mr. Willie Nelson himself. Most of my favorites have passed, sadly, but he might be the GOAT?
KB: Hmm. I’ll put you down as “undecided” on the Grateful Dead. You do share a sentiment with a fellow pop-culture icon, though:
Moving along, at your suggestion, I've started watching Tokyo Drift, er, Vice. Tokyo Vice, on HBO. It's grabbed my interest; it's well-written and -acted, and based on a true story. I haven't researched anything, to avoid spoilers. What drew you to this series? Is the "yakuza" thing just a different flavor of the classic American mob tale?
JP: I really dig stories of the underworld. It’s just such a fascinating subject. Japanese culture is fascinating by itself, but add some criminal activity and you’ve got my attention.
KB: One of the things that’s impressed me about it is that with few exceptions, all the characters – even the criminals – have some endearing or sympathetic qualities. That’s a mark of good storytelling.
If you can listen to only three albums the rest of your life, what are they?
JP: I can do this one, Kevin. Waylon Jennings, Honky Tonk Heroes; Guy Clark, Texas Cookin’; and Danzig, Lucifuge.
KB: One of these things is not like the other. Nice.
Let's get to the main course, because UFC 274 is the best card -- on paper, anyway -- I've eyeballed in more than a year. At the bottom of the main card, there's a career-sunset bout between Cowboy Cerrone and Joe Lauzon. Next up, it's 40-year-old Shogun Rua (he lost the 205 belt to Jonny Bones in 2011) vs. OSP -- probably a "loser retires" match. Then there's Michael Chandler against Tony Ferguson -- a once-great fighter on a 3-bout losing streak.
My favorite UFC fighter, Thug Rose Namajunas, looks to cement her claim to greatest strawweight fighter of all time against Carla Esparza. And in the main event, Justin Gaethje is a slight underdog to champion Charles Oliveira. A fine menu; let's take it in chunks:
(a) Who do you like in the main event? Based on the recent history of both guys, I'll go out on a limb and say this one doesn't go the distance.
JP: Aaaaaaaannnnd IT’S TIME!!!! I’m a Gaethje fan although I like Oliviera. But Justin is a banger! He will give Charles a hard time and give us a great show.
(b) Does Cowboy make it out of the first round? Hate to put it like that, but he's lost five of his last six, and it hasn't been pretty. He's a betting favorite, but Lauzon is a smart fighter.
JP: Dang, man. I like Cowboy so much so he’s my pick whether it’s a good one or not.
(c) Chandler won his UFC debut against Dan Hooker, then ran into the buzz saws who'll fight in the main event Saturday. Two guys really needing a win here. Does Ferguson have a shot? He’s a 4:1 dog.
JP: I’m not a Chandler fan, but I think he gets the win. But a Ferguson victory could turn things around for him and really make things interesting.
(d) Thug Rose: She seems to be cleaning out the straw-weight division with two wins each over Joanna and that bad ass Chinese chick. Does Esparza have a shot?
JP: I’m not sure why Carla is fighting Rose who has the belt right now, but whatevs.
Jeremy Pinnell is touring his ass off. Catch a show, but don’t request “Uncle John’s Band.”
Kevin’s plays for UFC 274, which are worth exactly what you’re paying for them:
Caught halfway between amplified Americana and heartland roots-rock, Jason Scott & the High Heat create a sweeping, dynamic sound that reaches far beyond the traditions of their Oklahoma City home. Too loud for folk music and too textured for Red Dirt, this is the sound of a genuine band rooted in groove, grit, and its own singular spirit, led by a songwriter whose unique past — a Pentecostal upbringing and years logged as a preacher-in-training — has instilled both a storyteller's delivery and a unique perspective about life, love, and listlessness in the modern world.
While his bandmates — Gabriel Mor (guitar), Taylor Johnson (guitar, keys), Alberto Roubert (drums), and Ryan Magnani (bass) — grew up listening to popular music, Jason's childhood was shaped by the sounds of Sunday morning church service. He sang in the choir and eventually learned to lead his own congregations, often turning to music to get his messages across.
A multi-instrumentalist, producer, engineer, and session musician, Scott launched his solo career with 2017's Living Rooms. The 5-song debut EP introduced him as a folksinger with a knack for "fun little earworms" (NPR), and he spent the following year balancing his time between the road and the studio, where he produced albums for Americana artists like Carter Sampson, Ken Pomeroy, and Nellie Clay. Things began to expand as he assembled the High Heat, a band of multi-faceted musicians and roots-rock Renaissance men who, like their frontman, juggled multiple artistic pursuits. Together, Jason Scott & the High Heat have since become a self-contained creative collective whose talents include songwriting, music production, photography, video direction, and more.
Castle Rock marks Jason Scott & the High Heat's full-length debut. "Quittin’ Time" makes room for a dual-guitar attack, a barroom piano solo, and a storyline about a hardworking man's fruitless attempts to escape his limited horizons, while "Cleveland County Line" flips the script, delivering a narrative about a prodigal son bound for home after a dark spiral of Kerouac-worthy travels. Lead single "Suffering Eyes" — with its twinkling keyboards, chugging power chords, and cascading guitar arpeggios — is heartland rock at its modern-day peak, as panoramic as the Oklahoma plains themselves.
This album will remind you of a lot of your favorite artists, yet every song is original. Jason Scott may be a man of few words, but his music has a lot to say.
You hail from Oklahoma City, but this isn’t a red-dirt record; I hear more Tom Petty & John Prine than Ragweed or Turnpike, for instance. Can you share who some of your eclectic range of influences are?
Sure, yeah. Well, those two for sure, Tom Petty and John Prine. I like James Taylor a lot. I like songwriters: Guy Clark, Townes, stuff like that. And just about everything in between, really. Hip-hop…Kendrick Lamar. I’ve got a bunch of old Dean Martin Christmas records, too, so I like a little bit of everything.
You’ve been producing records for a while. How did that help with the efficiency of the recording process, and implementing your vision for this album?
I actually went to school for some “studio stuff” at ACM here in Oklahoma City. I’ve just been in and out of studios for the last 15 or so years of my life, and several of the guys in my band are in that environment, too. Taylor Johnson, who plays guitar for us, is an incredible engineer and producer. So yeah, having a team around you like that certainly helps in the start you get from start to finish, that’s for sure.
An interesting nugget from your bio: You grew up in a Pentecostal household and were actually training to be a pastor before dealing with – and I’m quoting here – “a crisis of faith.” Expound on that a little; how has it affected your writing, and familial relationships, for that matter?
I definitely had an “I’m Leaving” moment, and that put some distances in some friendships and relationships for sure. Most of the ones who count are still people in my life. But going back to songwriting, you know, the Bible is full of good stories, so being a Pentecostal certainly influenced me in my writing.
When I heard the tag line, “Ain’t nobody gonna roll the stone away” in “The Stone,” it initially conjured images of the first Easter. But that’s a song about a veteran and his wife coping with PTSD. Tell us how that song came about.
For a while, I’ve been startled with the amount of suicides in the veterans’ community. It’s not a song about a specific couple, but it’s something a lot of households have dealt with the last couple decades. And to be honest, those numbers haven’t improved that much. And I think I just wanted to say something about it; I mean the song doesn’t really offer any solutions, just more of an “it is what it is” situation. I have some friends and family who are veterans, too, so that influenced the song or at least wanting to make the song.
I’m a sucker for pretty harmony. Who’s the lady with the voice?
I have a couple of girl friends on the record. Abbey Philbrick has a band here in Oklahoma City – and they’re just amazing. And then Carter Sampson is a long-time buddy – I actually helped produce some of her records, way back – and she’s on “Castle Rock” and “A Little Good Music.” There are a lot of great girl artists here in Oklahoma City.
You just led me right into my next questions. “A Little Good Music,” may be my favorite cut. It’s full of good advice; what was its inspiration?
Uhhhh…my wife. (Chuckles) We have two kids, and sometimes life…well, it’s easy to get stressed out. I don’t know if there was a specific moment that inspired it, just the last nine years generally.
Tell me about the preacher raining down fire at the beginning of “Sleepin’ Easy,” and how they’re tied together. And I’m wondering if this is the first time Ambien has gotten a shout-out in a country song?
Hmmm. I don’t know. There’s probably something out there about it. But “Sleepin’ Easy,” too, incorporates being a parent and stressing out. Being a parent in today’s climate – politically, economically, all of that – is part of the stress in that song: Just trying to keep your head above water, and everybody seeming to need something from you. And [including the pastor at the beginning] wasn’t meant to be a slight, more an acknowledgment that if you go to church, you have to pay to attend, in most places.
That final cut on the album is where we hear the phrase “Castle Rock,” which I understand is somewhere you lived upon taking your leave of the church. Care to explain?
Yeah. My mom & dad split up when I was about 12, and I went to live with my mom in Castle Rock. And without going into too much detail, it was a crazy time in life for me and my two younger sisters. And I basically got to do whatever I wanted; there was definitely less focus and attention on the kids. For the first time in my life, I was doing stuff outside of a church building. Castle Rock was a time of change of me, so it was important to include some of those experiences in this group of songs.
With as crazy as the past couple years have been, have y’all had a chance to road-test any of these songs, and are there plans for a tour after the release?
Yeah, we’re in discussions with a pretty well-known booking agency right now, and we’ve got shows starting in February. And we’ve absolutely played these songs live and gotten miles out of them in many different places. But hopefully we’ll be able to add a bunch more dates really soon, and I’m definitely excited for that.
They say Gram Parsons was the Godfather of alt country, and I believe them. Evidence abounds. If that’s the case, Steve Earle was the Michael to Parsons’ Vito. I don’t know – though I doubt it – that they ever met. If they had, I’m sure Steve would have told us. Funny thing: Neither knew they were part of a musical movement. At least Steve didn’t in 1986, when Guitar Town came out, and I was a sophomore in college and about to ship out for Army basic training. (I have Auburn University’s WEGL to thank for even knowing who he was at the time.)
It was a record that transformed my musical life. Suddenly it was okay -- cool, even -- for a kid raised on rock ‘n’ roll to dig country music. He was part of the “new traditionalist” movement that included Randy Travis and Dwight Yoakam. But there was something extra-edgy about this guy. A few years later I’d learn to play guitar, inspired by the songs on Guitar Town and Exit 0. I’d write to him in prison, after I’d wondered, pre-Internet, where the hell he’d gone.
There was always a populist, working-class ethos to his music. But it stayed mostly below the surface, never predominating his work. Well, for a while, anyway. His dad was an air traffic controller who got bounced when Ronaldus Maximus fired him and the rest of his brethren in the PATCO strike of 1981. I don’t think Steve ever got over that. Politics sprinkled his musical world for a while, but eventually covered it. Early on, he was clever and nuanced about it; later, he decided you needed to be punched in the mouth with his Che Guevara chic. Steve Earle, you see, was “woke” before “woke” was a thing…you little savage capitalists.
He had his (then) pet projects. Death penalty bad! Land mines bad! I guess we can let Steve in on the bad news – not that he doesn’t know.
Quadruple murderers can still get the needle.
American soldiers in the Second Infantry Division just south of the 38th Parallel in Free Korea can still count on defensive land mines to help stave off Kim Jong Un’s communist hordes, at least until the cavalry can arrive.
Western Civilization can be thankful that Steve Earle failed in his woke crusades to abolish the death penalty and land mines.
We’re here to break down the albums of Steve Earle. Well, the ones of his pre-WOKE era, anyway. And by “pre-woke,” we mean every album up to the point he became so overcome with hatred for America that he felt compelled to write an ode to the American Taliban, John Walker Lindh. Nah. We stop just before the album Jerusalem.
Oh, wait. I’m getting angry and political, aren’t I? Sort of like you and all your records after 9/11? Mike Spann’s buried in Arlington. Think you’ll ever write a song about him? Here’s a picture.
Sorry. Let’s look at the Steve Earle albums before he got so angry and political, shall we?
Okay, let’s break them down…
One more thing, sorry. Hey, Steve: I’m sure your reaching out to Trump voters has nothing to do with making money for your stupid effing play that trashes the coal industry that employs millions of people, right? Because that would make you a capitalist…and a hypocrite.
Okay, I promise. I’m done.
We’ll look at them in chronological order, highlighting the great songs, then do a rating, which will be purely subjective. Sound good? Okay.
The pre-prison albums
Guitar Town, 1986
The one that started it all. The title cut is so good and attention-grabbing. It was just SO different for the time. Kathy Mattea and Randy Travis and Michael Martin Murphy were pulling country back to its roots, but there was an anti-hero vibe from this guy who’d learned his chops from Guy Clark and Townes. This sad song is the one that hooked me. “Lovers leave and friends will let you down.” I think he might have been singing about heroin.
Exit 0, 1987
The perfect follow-up record. If you go through the whole (pre-woke) Steve Earle catalog, I challenge you to find two back-to-back albums that pair together more seamlessly. “The keeper at the gate is blind, so you better be prepared to pay.” So much unintentional foreshadowing. “The Rain Came Down” was his answer to Mellencamp’s “Scarecrow,” and it was better. “Six Days on the Road” made it onto the Planes, Trains and Automobiles soundtrack. “Someday” is a teenage wonder-hit.
Copperhead Road, 1988
At this point, Steve and MCA knew they were headed for a breakup, even as he had his first – and only – crossover hit. He didn’t LOOK like a country singer was supposed to, and he was basically telling Nashville to pound sand. So very many great songs… “Snake Oil” is his song of rage against Reagan, and well done. Maria Mckee of Lone Justice sings with him on the most unlikely Christmas song, “Nothing But a Child.” My favorite? The WW II ode, “Johnny Come Lately,” with the help of The Pogues.
The Hard Way, 1990
Things are really starting to fall apart for him now, though no one really knew – again, pre-Internet. Crack and heroin are in control of Steve’s life right now. There are two or three decent songs on this one. “Billy Austin” is the best, but it’s a bedwetting, anti-death penalty, pro-murderer ballad. We’re posting the other good one:
Shut Up And Die Like An Aviator (Live), 1991
If we’re to believe the storyline of “Johnny Come Lately,” we have to believe the title of this album is from a saying of Steve’s granddaddy. He’s pretty out of his gourd during this one. But this cover got me interested in the Stones’ (Keith’s, really) country fixation.
A truly unplugged album, and a new beginning. It features a Beatles cover (“I’m Lookin’ Through You”), and his first recorded cover with Emmylou, “Nothin’ Without You.” We also got a taste for Steve’s appreciation for history with a couple cuts. “Tom Ames’ Prayer” is an outlaw ballad that makes mention of Arkansas Judge “Hanging” Isaac Parker. But what’s really chilling is his point-of-view tale of a Confederate soldier:
I Feel Alright, 1996
The post-prison triumph and return to form, and maybe the best pre-woke album. “The Unrepentant” is a straight rocker. “Hardcore Troubadour” is the most Steve Earle song ever, and a duet with Lucinda Williams is the unheralded gem of a great record.
El Corazon, 1997
Notable for several collaborations, and Steve’s first foray into bluegrass. Del McCoury and his band (FORESHADOWING ALERT) post up on “I Still Carry You Around.” The Fairfield Four accompany him on “Telephone Road.” Emmy makes a return on the historiography “Taneytown,” another great point-of-view song. “You’d think that they’d never seen a colored boy before.” What a line in a great murder ballad.
This next one’s so good it deserves its own
Separate Heading. Though Still Chronological, The Bluegrass Record:
The Mountain(With The Del McCoury Band), 1999
The thing about bluegrass is, you don’t just dabble in bluegrass. Yet Steve wrote a really good record in the genre. It didn’t hurt that he got a really good band to back him. Steve, being Steve, managed to offend Del not long after by using a bunch of foul language at the bluegrass festivals they played together. Still, what a bunch of keepers on this record. “Carrie Brown” was his vision of an enduring bluegrass hit. It should be.
But just to bookend things, I like the Civil War song, this time from a Yankee’s point of view. Based, incidentally, on a composite character in the Michael Shaara novel The Killer Angels.
“I am Kilrain from the 20th Maine and I fight for Chamberlain. ‘Cause he stood right with us when the Johnnies came like a banshee on the wind.”
There will never be a better couplet written about July 2, 1863. Makes this Johnny weep. It’s that good.
“…now we’re all Americans.”
Transcendental Blues, 2000
As we wrap up our tour of the pre-woke catalog, we see a transition into what might have been: that old/new Steve Earle sound without virtue-signaling pretense. There are a handful of really good songs here. The title cut is great. “Everyone’s In Love With You” is an electric rocking/stalking tune in the tradition of “More Than I Can Do” from I Feel Alright. “The Galway Girl” is a return to a Gaelic thing we’d heard hints of on a bunch of records. “All Of My Life” is a real keeper. Sucks he had to get all preachy after this record.