Artist: Steve Earle & The Dukes
Label: New West Records
Release Date: 02/17/2015
Musically, Steve Earle couldn’t avoid the blues giants of his native Texas. Personally, he lived the hard blues just like his number one hero, Townes Van Zandt. And, despite being known as a country artist, Steve Earle has been playing the blues in one kind of unruly mud-caked guise or another all along. But Terraplane is his first blues album, a curiosity he articulates perfectly in liners that end with “Hell, everybody’s sick of all my fucking happy songs anyway.” That paradoxical line is all you need to know about the kind of personality that goes into a Steve Earle song.
And these are all Steve Earle songs, fully excellent by the empathy, and the immense talent, across the board. Earle wrote some great ones for this record, perhaps inspired by his divorce from singer Allison Moorer. Certainly the hick blues “You’re the Best Lover that I Ever Had” and mournful “Better Off Alone” were inspired by that. He sings with the cracked seasoning of a life lived not quite Ward Clever-ish, and plays great guitar throughout. The Dukes are offhandedly referred to as the Terraplaners here, which suits their primitive drive, in many modes. “Go Go Boots are Back” could be a Vaughan Brothers tribute. “The Tennessee Kid” takes cues from the unclassifiable T Bone Burnett, or maybe Tom Waits or Rodney Crowell. Certainly the legends loom. “Baby Baby Baby (Baby)” is badass like Junior Wells. “Gamblin’ Blues” rambles along like a hundred great delta guys might. Earle’s simultaneous reverence and irreverence make for one damn fine blues album.
– Tom Clarke