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The Devil's Right Hand - An Introduction to Steve Earle

Steve Earle

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Album Review

An 18-song sampler of Steve Earle's MCA years and drawn from the albums Guitar Town (1986), Exit 0 (1987), Copperhead Road (1988), The Hard Way (1990), and the 1991 live set Shut Up and Die Like an Aviator, Devil's Right Hand manages at once to capture the tone and feel of Earle's early work without necessarily choosing the best songs from the period, making this an adequate introduction but hardly more than that. Earle, of course, was his own worst enemy during the 1980s, battling drug addiction and countless personal demons along with record companies and authority figures everywhere (an approach that eventually landed him in prison), while somehow still managing to write and record great material like the title track. Living that life took its toll on Earle, though, and the MCA albums were frequently spotty as a result. Re-emerging from incarceration in the 1990s as cranky and confrontational as ever, but now clean and sober, Earle's later work is more balanced and focused, but there is a spark of reckless abandon in the best of the MCA songs that Earle is unlikely to find again. Culled like this into a sampler set, though, Earle, however irascible, seems subtly tamed and managed. Better to start at the beginning and pick up Guitar Town, and proceed from there.


Born: 17 January 1955 in Fort Monroe, VA

Genre: Country

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

In the strictest sense, Steve Earle isn't a country artist; he's a roots rocker. Earle emerged in the mid-'80s, after Bruce Springsteen had popularized populist rock & roll and Dwight Yoakam had kick-started the neo-traditionalist movement in country music. At first, Earle appeared to be more indebted to the rock side than country, as he played a stripped-down, neo-rockabilly style that occasionally verged on outlaw country. However, his unwillingness to conform to the rules of Nashville or rock...
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