Showing posts with label Steve Earle and the Dukes. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Steve Earle and the Dukes. Show all posts

May 28, 2020

Album Review / Steve Earle & The Dukes / Ghosts of West Virginia

 
By Megan Bledsoe

There are few figures in country music as inherently cool as Steve Earle. An influence on many younger country and Americana artists both musically and politically, the alt country legend has made a career out of doing things his own way, everything else be damned. In that spirit, instead of making what he would call a "preaching to the choir album,” amid the extreme political tensions of 2020, he chose to release a record for people who likely didn’t vote the way he did, seeking to use his music to unite us and focus on our common ground. Earle made an album for the twenty-nine miners who lost their lives in the Upper Big Branch Mine explosion in 2010 because of a coal company’s carelessness and disregard for their safety, and for the families who must wake up without their loved ones every day. Ghosts of West Virginia is a loving ode to that state and to its people, as well as a cry for justice from those forgotten miners and their families.

The album paints a somber picture of Appalachian life right from the opening song, “Heaven Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere.” At once futile and hopeful, this song highlights the duality of feeling defeated and forgotten in this world while also looking forward to heaven with hope and joy. It’s a reminder that nothing in this life is certain and that we can’t take any of it with us when we die, either the happiness or the sorrow we found on earth.

The struggle between hope and hopelessness continues throughout the record. They exist side by side and simultaneously. “Time is Never on our Side” is similar to the opener, but this one focuses more on the riddle that is time; it can fly or crawl, and as every moment passes by, we have less of it. The grandfather in “Black Lung” reflects that he knew the day of his first shift in a coal mine that this would be his fate someday, yet in the next breath he declares that "half a life is better than nothing at all,” saying that he wouldn’t have been able to make it without becoming a miner all those years ago. Mining is presented as the only viable option, the lesser of the evils when the other choice is a lifetime of financial hardship and struggling to survive.


Nowhere is this more apparent than in the album closer, “The Mine,” where the narrator is trying to console his partner by saying that things will get better when his brother pulls some strings at the mine where he works and gets this man hired. Upon first listen, it may seem like the album climax comes in “It’s About Blood,” where Steve Earle’s anger is on display in full force as he rails against the coal companies that can so callously allow these things to happen and then call it an accident, and certainly his fury is infectious as the song culminates in the naming of all twenty-nine miners who gave their lives that fateful day. But it’s really here in the quiet end to the record where the most sobering reality lies, that despite lungs full of coal dust and the possibility of disaster, working in the mines is still the dream for this West Virginian, still the only form of hope in this life. This narrator says that if he were going to try and make a life outside the state, he probably would have by now, but he can’t leave the mountains he has loved since he was a child. So he will stay in West Virginia and hope for the day when things will get better, when he will go to work in the mine and be able to provide a better life for his family.

With Ghosts of West Virginia, Steve Earle has made an outstanding, timeless tribute to the people of Appalachia. This is not only a record for the miners who lost their lives at the Upper Big Branch mine but also for the living miners who toil underground each day, for the men who gave their best years to a coal company in exchange for enough money to get by and permanent damage to their lungs, and for all of the forgotten people of West Virginia who find little joy in this world and seek their rest in the hereafter. The album captures all the beauty of this land right along with all of the harshness and hardship, and Steve Earle’s love for this place and these people shines brightly throughout. This will be one of the finest records of 2020 and one of the greatest albums in Steve Earle’s storied discography.


Jun 27, 2017

Favorite Albums of 2017: Mid-Year Report

This is Trailer's list of favorite albums. The year-end list will look a lot different because all 
Farce the Music's contributors will vote on it, there will be actual write-ups of the top albums, and besides... there are 6 more months in the year.  There's an Americana/Country-only list at the bottom.


 


And here's a Top 20 list for Americana & Country only:
1. Shinyribs - I Got Your Medicine
2. The Steel Woods - Straw in the Wind
3. John Moreland - Big Bad Luv
4. Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit - The Nashville Sessions
5. Steve Earle - So You Wannabe An Outlaw
6. Jason Eady - s/t
7. Chris Stapleton - From A Room
8. Lillie Mae - Forever and Then Some
9. Zephaniah OHora and the 18 Wheelers - This Highway
10. Colter Wall - s/t
11. Sunny Sweeney - Trophy
12. Dalton Domino - Corners
13. Valerie June - The Order of Time
14. Son Volt - Notes of Blue
15. Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives - Way Out West
16. Robyn Ludwick - This Tall to Ride
17. Strand of Oaks - Hard Love
18. The Kernal - Light Country
19. Nikki Lane - Highway Queen
20. Angaleena Presley - Wrangled

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

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