13 Songs, 46 Minutes

EDITORS’ NOTES

Essential Steve Earle summarizes the singer-songwriter’s mid-‘80s output, a period in which he was trying to break out of the rigid structure of the Nashville music industry and find his own voice. Earle’s work from this period fits easily alongside contemporaneous works by Bruce Springsteen, Dwight Yoakam, and John Mellencamp, who held tight to rootsy values in an era of synthesizers and drum machines. Earle’s inability to garner the widespread acclaim of the aforementioned artists can be attributed to a classic conundrum: his music was too country for rock fans, and too rock for country fans. In retrospect, that mix feels just right. There's traditionalist twang and songcraft in “Guitar Town,” “Hillbilly Highway” and “The Devil’s Right Hand,” but those songs also display more grit and swagger than Springsteen, Mellencamp, and Yoakam combined. “Copperhead Road” is a biker anthem recast as bluegrass — no one but Earle could pull it off. Still, Earle’s toughness belied a sensitive streak. “Nowhere Road,” “Someday,” and “I Ain’t Ever Satisfied” exude a restless nostalgia, a sentiment that would become the currency of Earle’s craft in the years to come.

EDITORS’ NOTES

Essential Steve Earle summarizes the singer-songwriter’s mid-‘80s output, a period in which he was trying to break out of the rigid structure of the Nashville music industry and find his own voice. Earle’s work from this period fits easily alongside contemporaneous works by Bruce Springsteen, Dwight Yoakam, and John Mellencamp, who held tight to rootsy values in an era of synthesizers and drum machines. Earle’s inability to garner the widespread acclaim of the aforementioned artists can be attributed to a classic conundrum: his music was too country for rock fans, and too rock for country fans. In retrospect, that mix feels just right. There's traditionalist twang and songcraft in “Guitar Town,” “Hillbilly Highway” and “The Devil’s Right Hand,” but those songs also display more grit and swagger than Springsteen, Mellencamp, and Yoakam combined. “Copperhead Road” is a biker anthem recast as bluegrass — no one but Earle could pull it off. Still, Earle’s toughness belied a sensitive streak. “Nowhere Road,” “Someday,” and “I Ain’t Ever Satisfied” exude a restless nostalgia, a sentiment that would become the currency of Earle’s craft in the years to come.

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