-->
Music

Steve Earle: Guitar Town (Expanded Edition)

Jason MacNeil

Without this brilliant effort, none of the others would've been possible. A modern classic.


Steve Earle

Guitar Town (Expanded Edition)

Label: Expanded Edition
US Release Date: 2002-01-29
Amazon
iTunes

In 1986, three new "country" artists shook the foundations of Nashville and took it by storm. Randy Travis made a name for himself with a style similar to the great genre forefathers while Dwight Yoakam went for a California hillbilly style with just as much success. The third musician, a veteran on the Music Row scene and a proven songwriter, recorded one of his personal best and a landmark roots rock album. While he may have eventually rubbed the country establishment the wrong way with his hellraising attitude and refusal to be pigeonholed, Steve Earle proved to critics and fans that, despite subsequent problems, he was in it for the long run. And one of the more productive runs in recent memory! Now repackaged with a bonus track and personal liner notes, Guitar Town sounds as fresh as it did in March 1986.

Starting off with the title track, which would hit the top spot on both the rock and country charts, Earle wastes little time describing the road and getting out of Small Town, Anywhere. While later editions of the album would replace the culturally sensitive phrase "Jap guitar" with "Jeep guitar", the song stays true to its original form. Particularly interesting is how Bucky Baxter's pedal steel guitar on the song should move it towards an authentic, old-time country and western groove. But it has the opposite, more appealing effect on the tune. "Goodbye's All We Got Left to Say" is perhaps the most mainstream song here, and is probably the disc's weakest song.

The troubadour quality to most of the album's songs falls along the lines of Bruce Springsteen, who Earle states in the liner notes, after seeing him in concert, as being his "Eureka!" "Hillbilly Highway" has a distinct charm to it, almost bypassing the traditional country structure and heading into bluegrass territory as he would later do on several post-addiction and post-jail albums. "Down the Road" runs along similar roads, with its mandolin and three verses and no chorus blueprint. Earle's twang comes to the fore here as well. "Think It Over" also has a '50s feeling to it; whether it's the standup bass or the melody, it's eerily similar to any Ricky Nelson hit. The Springsteen hue is also seen in the bridge of "Good Ol' Boy" with its keyboards and slightly more uptempo delivery. The lyrics here also are very strong, especially when he sings, "I was born in the land of plenty now there ain't enough".

One of the most overlooked songs in Earle's repertoire is the somber and peaceful bleak lullaby of "My Old Friend the Blues". The curt manner of the singer's writing is never more apparent, saying clearly in three brief verses what hundreds have tried to convey before and since in a convoluted manner. While some may be aware of the cover version by The Proclaimers, you can't beat the original for its simplicity. But as pretty as that song may be, the highlight of the album is the often overlooked "Someday", which never did much as a single but has all the qualities of a Rolling Stone track in their Gram Parsons influenced period, if listening closely. The guitar riff is as straightforward as anything Keith Richards ever did, not leading the track so much as moving things along.

As the album nears its conclusion, "Fearless Heart" is another oft-overlooked song but a regular staple of the musician's exhausting live show. Paul Franklin's pedal steel guitar work and Harry Stinson's drumming add an important touch to the song's framework, with Earle sounding as if he's on the cusp of something unknown but quite good. The bonus track, a live cover of Springsteen's "State Trooper", stays true to the song's meaning but moves in a much murkier and Delta blues manner. Previously available only on a British import collection and bootlegs (but they're illegal, so we don't buy those, do we?), the song is twice as long as the original, but just as intense in its own way.

On the whole, this album, along with Exit 0, stands alongside his best work. But it's more important in that without this brilliant effort, none of the others would've been possible. A modern classic.

9

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less
Music

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Keep reading... Show less

Scholar Judith May Fathallah's work blurs lines between author and ethnographer, fan experiences and genre TV storytelling.

In Fanfiction and the Author: How Fanfic Changes Popular Culture Texts, author Judith May Fathallah investigates the progressive intersections between popular culture and fan studies, expanding scholarly discourse concerning how contemporary blurred lines between texts and audiences result in evolving mediated practices.

Keep reading... Show less
8

Burt Lancaster not only stars in The Kentuckian (1955) but directed and produced it for the company he co-founded with Ben Hecht. The result is an exciting piece of Americana accoutred in all sorts of he-man folderol, as shot right handsomely in Technicolor by Ernest Laszlo and scored by Bernard Herrmann with lusty horns to echo the source novel, Felix Holt's The Gabriel Horn.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less
3
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image