Sunday Early Morning Music — Steve Earle Performing “King of the Blues”

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.”

A Little Traveling Musical Interlude — Steve Earle performing The Low Highway

Been on a bit of travel the last few weeks and that has caused a short blogging interlude over the last week.

During this time I’ve been doing a lot of driving lately–usually after a pretty good flight as well.  I have found that it is all too easy in today’s world of social networking, individualized transportation, and air travel to go from one’s oasis of choice to the airport, to the hotel, and to one’s conference or job site without actually interacting with the people and things of the locale.  There is something of a dysfunctional Accidental Tourist vibe to it all that contributes, I believe, to making it too easy to be inure to the economic struggles and otherwise more commonplace realities of our fellow citizens.

Our advances in information systems have increased alienation in many ways, which is hard enough to overcome given the limitations of our perceptions, and we see the dysfunction caused by this condition: from the ability of people with money, power, and influence, to mold the perception of reality in the face of the facts; the proliferation of elaborate conspiracy theories; the denial of science and empiricism; and the brazenly public advocacy of solipsistic and sociopathic ideologies that harden us to the misfortune of others.

This lack of connectedness, however, is remedied by a good road trip, even if one that is dictated by necessity.  Thus thrown into the real world, my virtual traveling companion includes the recordings of Steve Earle.  His latest album “The Low Highway” was released last year and I find myself coming back to it often, my virtual narrator pointing out the details that I would have missed otherwise.  Earle is probably the most important chronicler of the American condition in our time–our hopes, dreams, and those that have been lost–of no less importance to our national conversation than Woody Guthrie and Peter Seeger were to their own generations.

Here he is performing ‘The Low Highway.”