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Where do you start when it comes to Steve Earle? Either as a human being or as a recording act. With such a wealth of fine recordings to his name there is always a fear Earle might run out of ideas and places to go. But like always he has come up with something sounding fresh and innovative, and one steeped in country music!
Earle has never been afraid to follow his heart or shoot from the hip. As he’s aired his opinions and placed his heart on his sleeve. Here he pays tribute to one of country music’s finest, 1970s outlaw Waylon Jennings, a man he would come across on occasions when as a struggling songwriter he frequented with others song swopping sessions. Sessions where you might see Guy and Susanna Clark, Steve Young, Billy Joe Shaver, David Olney, Richard Dobson and less often Mickey Newbury, Roger Miller and Neil Young! He would also bump into real ‘outlaws’ Waylon and Tompall Glaser at J.J’s market playing the pinball machines. What a God given opportunity it was to hear the former air their latest creation in such intimate situations. It might not have been instant success for Earle (prior to his days on MCA he had a record out on Epic), but here he sounds re-energised as he floods the ears of the listener with twelve superbly crafted songs, and though some of the songs do have a Waylon-esque feel there’s still ample room for him to deviate, and nail down solid, stout as an old oak uncompromising Steve Earle country tune or two. His followers are well served. In fact I would have no hesitation in recommending the album to anyone interested in the genre since it is a real album.
With his recent marriage break-up with Allison Moorer still on his mind, and weighing on his heart and him reflecting on some of those who departed this world from of the country and singer-songwriter fraternity Earle’s mood is on occasions of a melancholy feel. One such case is the peerless “You Broke My Heart”, steeped in chugging rhythm, mandolin, pedal steel and fiddle it rises majestically above most other tunes on the record. Like a good few more pure country at its finest. Earle has this ability it seems, to turn on the tap and a classy song pop up. As on the jaunty “Walkin’ In LA” (with country veteran Johnny Bush) and evocative mellow story ballad “News From Colorado” and with Miranda Lambert lending well-suited vocals “This Is How It Ends” it too is most worthy effort. So good is Lambert it promoted me to recheck her work.
As for the Waylon connection Steve gets to crank it up on “So You Wannabe An Outlaw”, and have Willie (Nelson) add his definitive vocals to place the icing on the cake. “Lookin’ For A Woman” immediately follows, and with more Waylon-ish guitar sounds the party never ends. While he may not be in party mood “You Broke My Heart” offers a rare beauty; the fiddle, Cody Braun; mandolin; Eleanor Whitmore warmed shuffle is one matched by few. There’s more too as band members Kelley Looney (bass), Chris Masterson (guitar, vocals), Whitmore (fiddle, mandolin, vocals), Ricky Ray Jackson (lots of tasty pedal steel guitar) and Brad Pemberton (drums) plus Chris Clark (keyboards, accordion, acoustic guitar) add to Earle’s guitar, mandolin and hard-edged vocals. Producer Richard Bennett certainly knows how to get the best out of Earle, as he comes through with a record with him sounding completely at ease with life. So You Wannabe An Outlaw has more genuine highlights to it than the majority of Steve Earle albums; to fans of a man who likes to see himself as a rebel I need to say no more, and for stone country a little apprehensive there is no better time than now to step outside the box!
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