Album Reviews

Steve Earle

So You Wannabe An Outlaw

Artist:     Steve Earle

Album:     So You Wannabe An Outlaw

Label:     Warner Bros.

Release Date:     06.16.2017

96

It would be hard to find anyone in the modern music world who knows more about living on the edge, being an outlaw while also always living the life, and mopping up media interest in his personal life and adventures, than Texan county-rocker, singer-songwriter Steve Earle. Earle could have written the handbook, the guide, the template for life on the musical edge. Instead, he has delivered this latest album on Warner Bros, his 23rd release to date. When I mention this fact, he shrugs as if surprised to have delivered so many releases over the past 40 or so years.

Backed as usual by the ever-flexible Dukes lineup (here strongly featuring guitarist Chris Masterson) Earle pays homage to one of his own wild heroes, Waylon Jennings, always a guy prepared to take risks, to roil and rock while slipping evidently political and liberal thoughts and imagery into his powerful lyrics. Tracks like “Firebreak Line” feature his thoughts on the wasteful nature of state services protecting those wealthy-enough to live in evidently unsuitable plots where spreading, annual explosive fires demand huge protective resources to be employed and on another track, the plight of the underprivileged in downtown LA—Earle is joined there by Johnny Bush with his inimitable Cash-like curve. The title track features the original I’m-still-standing-highwayman Willie Nelson in a supporting role. Politics and passion, introspection and involvement: with Earle, it has always been the way: a guy who wears his heart on his sleeve at times.

The title track features the original I’m-still-standing-highwayman Willie Nelson in a supporting role. Politics and passion, introspection and involvement: with Earle, it has always been the way. A guy who wears his heart on his sleeve at times.

Other tracks include a brace written originally for the Nashville television series on commission, one of which—a rocking marvellously melodic offering, “Looking For A Woman”— is only now seeing the light of day. The closing track, “Goodbye Michelangelo,” is a simply-picked, touching yet forceful acoustic number that clearly speaks volumes about his thoughts and sadness at the recent passing of one of his old Nashville music buddies, the late, great Guy Clark.

As usual, So You Wannabe An Outlaw has Earle picking both electric and acoustic guitars, reaching and shimmering full of perfectly pitched melodic rhythm and lyrical strength and confidence. The wonderful and clever use of color, pace and pitch here make this an attention-grabbing and truly satisfying release from an acknowledged master who, on the evidence here, remains firmly at the top of the game. This could very easily prove to be Earle’s finest album, a true treasure.

—Iain Patience

Got something to say?