Sunday, December 20, 2009


Some may argue with me, but I feel that this past decade has been Steve Earle's best. Or at least, it holds up to the two prior decades.  The '80s featured Guitar Town, Exit 0 and Copperhead Road. The '90s saw him go to jail and emerge even stronger with I Feel Alright, El Corazon and a collaboration with bluegrass gruop The Del McCoury Band, The Mountain.

I guess it was during the '00s that I caught up to Steve Earle, but his great albums kept blowing my mind during this decade.  Transcendental Blues was a really solid album. But he really hit a new stride with 2002's Jerusalem. For me, that's when he hit his political stride, railing against the evils of the Bush administration in the post 9/11 world. Steve was always a bit rough-edged to fit in with the Nashville world, and when he came out of prision, he was very anti-death penalty, which probably made some people uncomfortable.  By the time this album came out, he was a million miles away from polite Nashville-baked country, but this album ensured that he would never be invited back... at least some country folks will acknowledge the influence of Willie, Cash or Kristofferson. But he practically got blacklisted and evicted for this one (and in fact moved to New York City soon after). But "Ashes To Ashes," "Amerika V. 6.0 (The Best That We Can Do)," and especially "John Walker's Blues" (in the song, he has the audacity to wonder how what would inspire a young American to go to the Middle East and fight against Americans). The album also had a great song that he wrote with Sheryl Crow ("Go Amanda") and a lovely duet with Emmylou Harris ("I Remember You").

He continued down that road on 2004's The Revolution Starts Now, which got him labelled a "commie" from all the right wing nuts. The title track, "Home To Houston," "Rich Man's War" as well as "Condi, Condi" (about Bush's super hot National Security Advisor turned Secretary Of State) and "F the CC" ensured the o'reillys of the world some great targets for a while.  Although it was very much of its time, it still sounds great today.

He changed direction with 2007's Washington Square Serenade, which saw him sort of ditching his longtime backing band The Dukes. He moved from Nasvhille to New York and was newly married to singer/songwriter Allison Moorer. I love this album, and it was one of my favorites of 2007. It was more about love and life than about politics, although it had a nice f*** you to Lou Dobbs in "City Of Immigrants."

Earlier this year, he released Townes, a tribute to his late mentor Townes Van Zandt.   I wanted to like it, but it didn't really do it for me. Still,  his other albums during the decade made him one of my quintessential '00s artists. He also did a great cover of "Reconsider Me" for the Warren Zevon tribute album, Enjoy Every Sandwich that you should check out. I also have to mention his great show Hardcore Troubadour on SIRIUS XM's Outlaw Country, it's a great show.  I also know he's acted on The Wire (but I don't have HBO so I've never seen it), written a book and a play. But for me, it's mostly about the music (and his radio show).  As Emmylou said once when I saw her introducing him in concert, "Steve Earle takes no shit." He's made a great career of that -- doing things his own way, he doesn't know any other way.  Those kinds of artists are few and far between, and I'm glad Steve is one of the ones who is still here.

More Best Of The '00s: Bob Dylan
Willie Nelson
Aimee Mann
Jeff Tweedy
David Johansen
Levon Helm
The Beatles
Jim James

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