Album Reviews

Steve Earle

Guitar Town: Thirtieth Anniversary Deluxe Edition

Artist:     Steve Earle

Album:     Guitar Town

Label:     MCA Nashville/UMe

Release Date:     10/14/2016


Just a month ago, we reviewed the thirtieth anniversary of Peter Case’s first solo album. Yes, 1986 was a watershed year in the birth of what we now call Americana, and Steve Earle’s Guitar Town was probably an even bigger landmark album. This anniversary, two-disc set features the classic album remastered from the original tapes by Robert Vosgien, along with a previously unreleased 19-song live show recorded at the Park West in Chicago in 1986 and expanded liner notes.

After nearly a decade kicking around Nashville, playing bass in Guy Clark’s band and working at a publishing house as a staff songwriter with some mid-level chart success, Earle took  the industry by storm when he launched his career with this hard driving combination of twang and rock ‘n roll. When released on March 5th, 1986, the album produced by Emory Gordy, Jr. and Tony Brown was originally met with confusion from radio programmers who didn’t know where to place it, deriding it as too rock for country and too country for rock.

Eventually though, the album reached an incredibly wide range of fans, from rednecks to hippies to punksters  as evidenced by Earle sharing bills with George Jones and Dwight Yoakam one night and the Replacements the next. By now songs like “Goodbye’s All We Got Left” as well as “Hillbilly Highway” and “Someday” are as well-known, but much more timeless than most songs that came out of the eighties. I’m delighted to replace my cassette version with this remastered disc. The ten original songs still resonate.

The live disc boasts 19 tracks and shows Earle and his band in front of an amazingly appreciative audience. The band included Bucky Baxter and Michael McAdam on guitars, Reno Kling on bass, Ken Moore on keyboards and Harry Stinson on drums. They moved through the entire Guitar Town album, did several tracks from the then-unreleased sophomore album, Exit 0, and a cover of Springsteen’s “State Trooper.” The crowd response brought out three encores. When Earle took the stage alone with just an acoustic guitar for “No. 29,” he exclaimed, “This has been the thrill of my life and that’s no shit.” The success seemed to have stunned Earle.  What a career he’s had since!

-Jim Hynes

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