Outlaw country had peaked by the time the Review Corner bought Steve Earle’s fantastic debut Guitar Town, but he was in the outlaw vein, both musically (blending rock and blues with country) and with his hell raisin’ lifestyle.
With this new album, he reflects on the choices he made, now free from drugs and not in prison, but has seen a lot of contemporaries (old guys and younger ones) pack up their guitars and go on tour to a better place. (That’s in the sky, not Nashville). He’s not one for looking back, he says in the new sleeve notes, but he’s been attending a lot of funerals lately, and perhaps thinks a long life is better than one lived at the edges. Or as he sings: “So you wanna be an outlaw / Buddy take it from me / This living on the highway /Ain’t everything it’s supposed to be.”
Musically, this new album is good but not Guitar Town and some of the equally good albums that followed. The title track opens and it is classic Earle, as is the next one, Lookin’ For A Woman, which has that typical Earle beat to it.
Elsewhere he goes more traditional country — it’s where he came from after all — though Fixing To Die is more Plant/Page than Hank Williams.
As with everything Earle, it’s got a lot about it. He’s a clever guy who knows his heritage, writes intelligent lyrics and can knock out a good tune.
If you don’t know Earle you’ll think this is good but everything he does is good, whether it’s writing books in the style of John Steinbeck or appearing on The Wire as himself. For fans, he doesn’t do less than excellent, but this is more mellow than earlier work.