Originally a roots rocker from the mid-1980s Steve Earle has become an American treasure, singing songs that cross genres that include folk, protest, country, rockabilly, Americana, and roots music. Born in Fort Monroe, Virginia, but raised outside of San Antonio, Texas, independent-minded and rebellious, Steve Earle has always followed his own musical vision. Since the appearance of Guitar Town in 1986, he has produced one milestone album after another, many of them scorned and ignored when first released. When I first heard his first album he seemed to possess a combination of the east coast attitude of Bruce Springsteen combined with the mid-west swagger and rebellion of John Mellencamp. Then came the neo-traditional country that was reminiscent of the songs of Dwight Yoakum, Lyle Lovett, Guy Clark, and Randy Crowell. Then from there he was off on his own and I have followed him and his muse ever since.
This should have been no surprise. He met and was influenced early by Townes Van Zandt and, after moving to Nashville, was part of Guy Clark’s backup band in the 1970s. He has since incorporated those influences and pushed the music forward, honoring the tradition, but incorporating new elements.
Steve Earle produces story-songs that trace and record the life of the common man and woman. His songs embody the hopes, joys, sadness, disappointment, and sometimes anger that is part of American life. His character role in the TV series Treme’, which itself was an artistic achievement that represents an archive and testimony of our own time: a view of early 21st century America as seen through the lives of the people of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and the indifference, vicissitudes, day-to-day struggles, and political corruption they overcame in its wake. His song “This City” still rings in my mind. Aside from music and occasional acting, Earle also is a talented novelist.
His latest album, released last month, is entitled Terraplane. The song that follows is “King of the Blues.”