Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Steve Earle & The Dukes, Terraplane

Keep it short and sweet.  Keep it simple.  That could be the motto for this, the self-professed blues album from Steve Earle.  Here are eleven tracks spread over just 37 minutes, largely working the Mississippi Delta and the bayou country, with the odd hint of Chicago thrown in for good measure. Terraplane is a healthy portion of rootsy blues reflecting Steve Earle’s consummate song writing skills, drawing on some different styles while maintaining a coherent feel.
As has been widely noted, this album comes in the wake of Earle’s sixth divorce, and in his sleeve notes he observes that “Hell, everybody’s sick of all my fucking happy songs anyway.”  But if that
tempts you to think that this set will be consumed by dark introspection and self-pity, think again.  Steve Earle is a top-drawer lyricist, and much of the material here demonstrates that with originality and humour, right from the tongue in cheek brackets of the opening title, ‘Baby Baby Baby (Baby)’, swiftly confirmed by the opening lines: “I got a girl that live way down south / A little town they call ‘Shut my mouth’”.
‘The Tennessee Kid’ is an attention-grabber, a ‘Crossroads’-style tale involving the eponymous Kid and Old Nick, recounted in a semi-spoken vocal and a mood reminiscent of Ian Siegal’s ‘Curses’, and invoking a froth of Revelations imagery.  It’s a strangely incomplete narrative, as if there’s a missing first verse that provided the back-story, but perhaps all the more thought-provoking as a result.  ‘Go Go Boots Are Back’ meanwhile, cheerfully observes the return of cherished old fashions in a manner that Drive-By Truckers would admire, underpinned by a vaguely Stonesy riff.  For that matter one could also imagine Jagger relishing getting his tonsils around the following ‘Acquainted With The Wind’.
The one downbeat moment comes in ‘Better Off Alone’, a sparse, beautifully structured expression of resignation and even bitterness.  It’s made all the more poignant by following the breezy, down home declaration of independence that is ‘Ain’t Nobody’s Daddy Now’ (“I’m free / Can’t nobody tie me down / Nothin’ ever worries me / Ain’t nobody’s daddy now”).

Earle may jokingly lay claim to be ‘King Of The Blues’ on the swaggering closing track, and he puts in a shift on guitar, mandolin, harp and vocals.  But this is a team performance from a sympatico set of musicians, so full credit to Kelly Looney on bass, Will Rigby on drums, Chris Masterson on guitar and Eleanor Whitmore on fiddle and vocals, as well as producer R.S. Field.  Nevertheless, it’s the songs that are the centre of attention, and if Steve Earle felt it was inevitable he would make this album on day, then he’s done it justice.

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