Archive for the ‘Steve Earle’ Category

In celebration of the 23rd anniversary of The Old Grey Cat (sans the hiatus of about seven – or was it eight? – years), here’s a post from the original website. Just as I do on this blog at year’s end, I recapped one aspect of 1998 once December rolled around…

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DECEMBER 14th– This time of year, magazines, newspapers and the broadcast/cable networks look back at the year that was. And why not? It’s a cheap, easy way to fill space. Of course, few new insights are proffered; instead, we’re served clipped headlines and predictable analysis. For instance, 1998 is already being called “The Year of Monica.”

Uh, excuse me? As far as I’m concerned, 1998 was “The Year of Lucinda.”

Aside from being an instant classic, Lucinda Williams’ Car Wheels on a Dirt Road was the best album of the year, hands down. In years to come, folks will write about it with the same reverence that they share for such albums as Gram Parson’s Grievous Angel or the Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo, a genre-busting effort that is more than the sum of its parts. In a live setting, backed by a powerhouse band featuring the likes of guitar slinger Kenny Vaughn and vocalist extraordinaire Jim Lauderdale, Lucinda offered a stew of sublime, superb and incredible songs, tasty morsels all.

1) Lucinda Williams – June 26th – Philly/TLA – The circumstances were suspect, at best. Due to thunderstorms, Lucinda’s plane was detoured to NYC; she took a train south, and didn’t hit the stage until 10:30 p.m. Add to that the fact that she’d had two hours sleep the night before…but, to quote Stephen Stills, it’s “No matter. No distance. It’s the ride.” And what a ride this night was! She and her band were right in time; and we, the audience, were left moaning at the ceiling… especially on the extended guitar jam that brought bliss to “Joy.”

2) Steve Earle & the Dukes – Feb. 7th – Philly/TLA – The term “ragged glory” must have been invented to describe a Steve Earle show. After opening with the timely “Christmas in Washington,” Steve led the audience on a two-hour, 20-minute tour of society’s “other side”… “Taneytown,” “Copperhead Road” and Fort Worth were just a few of the stops. Others: “Guitar Town,” New York City and … the soul. This was a night of glorious, guts-first music that rocked the soul even as it connected with the intellect. I was lucky enough to see Steve twice this year, four months apart. The main difference? The band. Here, he was buttressed by Buddy Miller on guitar and Brady Blades on drums (half of Spyboy, in other words). Small wonder that, after Steve and the Dukes left the stage, the Philly crowd took up the chorus of the night’s closing song, “I Ain’t Ever Satisfied,” and brought him back for more.

3) CPR – July 1st – Philly/TLA – A sparsely attended show, but you’d never know it from the way Crosby, Pevar and Raymond played. Same goes for the magical opening act, Anastasia & John. An incredible, magical night. CPR remind me of Steely Dan, but minus (what to me is) the Dan’s smarminess. Crosby was in exc. voice, and the new songs are among his strongest. That’s not to say the old songs weren’t appreciated… don’t pass on seeing CPR, if given the chance. These guys rock (and Pevar’s guitar playing blows the mind).

4) Maria McKee – Dec. 6th – Philly/Tin Angel – This year, the Absolutely Sweet Maria undertook a brief tour billed as “A Close Encounter with …” At the Tin Angel, those words are oh-so-true. It’s a small venue, fitting no more than 125. Despite suffering from a cold and “airplane throat,” Maria took hold of the audience for a good 75 minutes… yeah, 75 minutes. Too short, to say the least, yet it was a riveting show. Suffice it to say, she is not collecting dust. She opened with “Life is Sweet,” played a hand-full of new songs and just a few of her older classics. “Panic Beach,” for example, tho’ these ears missed “Breathe.” The night’s highlight: An intense “I’m Not Listening.”

5) Steve Earle – July 15th – Philly/TLA – Minus Buddy Miller and Brady Blades, but still damn good. “Won’t get far on 37 dollars and a Jap guitar… WANNA BET!” See him, buy his albums, help him pay off that 16,000 pound phone bill he racked up in London last year… I could go on, but why?

“Tucson Train,” the latest tune released from Bruce Springsteen’s forthcoming Western Stars album, is another trek through the windswept sounds of a distant era. Like “Hello Sunshine,” it conjures the Jimmy Webb-penned classics of Glen Campbell, this time while spinning the tale of a man who fled his life in San Francisco in order to save himself from himself: “I come here looking for a new life/one I wouldn’t have to explain/to that voice that keeps me awake at night/when a little peace would make everything right.”

And, with that, here’s today’s Top 5: Boss Sounds.

1) Caroline Spence – “Racing in the Streets.” Caroline Spence’s Mint Condition (which, due to time constraints, I’ve yet to review) is as stunning and strong an album as I’ve heard all year. Here she is, two years back…

2) Nichole Wagner – “Tougher Than the Rest.” The Austin-based singer-songwriter recently released last year’s and the sky caught fire on vinyl – it comes with a cool baseball card, and is well worth the investment. Likewise, this understated performance of the Tunnel of Love tune is well worth a listen:

3) Steve Earle & the Dukes – “State Trooper.” Is this the greatest cover of a Bruce song? Perhaps not, but it definitely ranks near the top. (That said, if Jade Bird ever covers this Nebraska song, that rendition is sure bet to become the best ever.) 

4) LeAnn Rimes – “Secret Garden.” LeAnn is anything but blue during this mesmerizing spin on the oft-forgotten (at least be me) Springsteen song.

5) Soccer Mommy – “I’m on Fire.” Although not as mesmerizing a performance as the Staves’, this is a solid cover that’s grown on me.

This morning, during a rather hellacious commute, I whiled away the time listening to Courtney Marie Andrews’ May Your Kindness Remain, which is an early contender for my esteemed Album of the Year honors, and then listened to it again. I listened to it on the way home yesterday, and the day before that, and almost every day since its release.

It’s everything good about music. As I said in my First Impressions piece, “it’s the sound not of a generation, but of the generations.”

I told Diane as we were leaving her Boot & Saddle show last month that it’s likely the last time she’ll play there. The next time she’s in Philly (XPoNential Festival aside), she’ll be headlining the World Cafe Live’s downstairs room, which holds 300 to 600 (depending on whether tables are present; let’s hope for tables, as us old folks can only go so long on our feet), and instead of 100 fans in the room, it’ll be sold out. (Of course, I predicted that after we learned from Dillon Warnek that they were slated to appear on NPR’s World Cafe radio show two days later.) I hope I’m right.

Anyway, one of the thoughts that crossed my mind this morning: Songs that Courtney could and should cover – and not just any songs. Timeless songs, like hers.

And with that, here’s today’s Top 5: Timeless Songs.

1) Iris DeMent – “Livin’ in the Wasteland of the Free.” This is one of Iris’ most passionate and political songs, and even now – 20-plus years later – it resonates because, truth be told, not much has changed in the intervening years. And twang accent aside, it’s a perfect fit for Courtney. 

2) Merle Haggard – “If We Make It Through December.” One of the greatest songs about hard times ever written or performed.

3) Kris Kristofferson – “Help Me Make It Through the Night.” Another stone-cold classic, though one that’s been covered many, many times by many artists through the years.

4) Steve Earle – “Someday.” Another gem about working-class realities, and dreams of escape. (From Steve’s essential Guitar Town album.) Courtney would kill it. 

5) June Carter – “Juke Box Blues.” Long before she became Mrs. Cash, June was Nashville royalty – for good reason, of course. That said, she was often cast into comedy numbers due to the fact that she often shared the stage with sister Anita, whose voice is beauty set to song. “Juke Box Blues” was the B side to “No Swallerin’ Place,” a 1953 single. Unlike the A side, which is a joke set to a melody, the song is comedic primarily due to June’s delivery; the lyrics themselves are a testament to the power of music. (It was written by June’s mother Maybelle and sister Helen, for what that’s worth.) It’s long overdue for a revival – plus, Dillon could have a field day on guitar.)  

And one bonus…

6) Nanci Griffith – “If Wishes Were Changes.” What can be said about this gem? In short, to use one of my many overused words, it’s wondrous.

(As noted in my first Essentials entry, this is an occasional series in which I spotlight albums that, in my estimation, everyone should experience at least once.)

There are a handful of artists and acts that can claim credit for the laying the foundation for the alt. country/Americana scene that went mainstream during the early ‘90s, beginning with the most obvious: Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris.

Steve Earle is another.

Guitar Town, his 1986 debut, digs deep into the day-to-day life experienced by denizens of the forgotten America. By the mid-‘80s, factories were shutting down, farms going belly-up, and the dream of a better future seemed out of reach for many – as Earle articulates with journalistic precision on such songs as “Good Ol’ Boy (Gettin’ Tough),” “Someday” and “Hillbilly Highway.”

At the time, the music was deemed too country for rock and too rock for country; yet, despite that, the album made its way to No. 1 on the country charts. The title track made it to No. 7 and “Goodbye’s All We’ve Got Left” made it to No. 8.

In the years since its release, the album has been deemed one of the best of its time. Rolling Stone, for example, ranks it (too low) at No. 79 on its “Best Albums of the Eighties” list and at No. 482 on its Greatest Albums of All Time list.

Younger listeners may be shocked by the album’s relative brevity – it clocks in at just under 35 minutes. Make no mistake, however: There are no throwaways here.

The songs:

  1. Guitar Town
  2. Goodbye’s All We’ve Got Left
  3. Hillbilly Highway
  4. Good Ol’ Boy (Gettin’ Tough)
  5. My Old Friend The Blues
  6. Someday
  7. Think It Over
  8. Fearless Heart
  9. Little Rock ‘N’ Roller
  10. Down The Road