Steve Earle: The Revolution Starts... Now

Hank Kalet

The release of this record two and a half months before we have to enter the voting booths should offer solace and inspiration to those ready to act.

Steve Earle

The Revolution Starts... Now

Label: E-Squared
US Release Date: 2004-08-24
UK Release Date: 2004-08-23

Steve Earle has never been afraid to wear his politics on his sleeve. From his work fighting against the death penalty to his more recent criticisms of the Bush administration, Earle has always spoken his mind.

And he's never been afraid of controversy. On Jerusalem, the eloquent 2002 release that offered Earle's view of America after the terror attacks of 9/11, he offered a look inside the head of John Walker Lindh ("John Walker's Blues"), the so-called "American Taliban", raising the ire of conservative groups who misunderstood his attempt to tell Lindh's story as an endorsement of his politics.

He became a favorite target of the conservative talk radio crowd and was the subject of op-eds and criticism from politicians. But as Earle says on Just An American Boy, the documentary made of the European tour that followed, "Back home I have been accused of being unpatriotic, which doesn't bother me very much mainly because I'm reasonably sure that my definition of patriotism and the definition of my accusers are pretty far apart."

The Revolution Starts... Now picks up where Jerusalem left off, kicking off with a driving guitar and lyrically thumbing its nose at the American power structure. The Revolution Starts... Now is, essentially, Earle's definition of patriotism writ large across a 11-song rock-and-country record.

The political intent of the album is clear from its packaging, which mixes artifacts from American culture and advertising with images that allude to the revolutionary Che Guevera. Earle includes a short essay in the liner notes in which he explains the political context surrounding the recording of the album, reminding us that the prisoner abuse scandal was just breaking and the 9/11 hearings were underway.

"The most important presidential election of our lifetime was less than seven months away and we desperately wanted to weigh in, both as artists and as citizens of a democracy," he writes. "All but two of these songs were recorded within 24 hours of the first line hitting the paper. We worked 12- and 14-hour days and in between takes and over meals we talked about the war, the election, baseball, and women, in precisely that order."

And the result is an album both aggressive and sly, one that rides on hard-edged guitars and tells the stories of the people not doing so well in George Bush's America.

From the opening chords of the opening track, "The Revolution Starts Now" there is no doubt the Texan is on a mission. "The Revolution Starts Now" offers a simple lyric set over a grinding rock chord progression. "The revolution starts now / When you rise above your fear / And when you tear the walls around you down," he sings, the guitar driving, "The revolution starts here / Where you work and where you play /Where you lay your money down / What you do and what you say / The revolution starts now / The revolution starts here." It's a simple statement of purpose, a political statement, a reminder that change is within our grasp, that we are the ones who must make it happen.

It is a powerful opening to the album, a positive opening, one that cuts past the cynicism of contemporary politics, the quickly narrowing sense of possibility generated by the current powers that be in Washington.

The rest of the disc is a surprising mix. There is the political -- the pointed "Rich Man's War", "The Gringo's Tale" and "F the CC" (you can guess what the target of this rocker is). There are stories of average folks (the country vamp, "Home to Houston", tells the story of a trucker making his way back home after a difficult trip), stories of love (a tender love duet with Emmylou Harris that ranks with duets he has recorded with Lucinda Williams and Roseanne Cash).

There is humor. "Condi, Condi" is a love song to National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice, one that slices through the artifice and Oprah-esque appearance. "People say you're cold but I think you're hot," he sings, trying to get her to shake her body, to give him a whirl.

And there is the spiritually themed "Warrior" (a spoken word piece with lyrics based on Kenneth Branaugh's film version of Henry V) and "The Seeker". "The Seeker" is, as Earle told Kurt Orzeck in Ice magazine, "the obligatory state-of-me song that I end up with on every record �- me taking a picture of where I am". In it, the singer offers an explanation for the eternal optimism he holds, a bit of advise his granddaddy gave him when he was eight: "Whatever you do be a seeker."

"In a world full of sorrow, hunger and pain / It's so hard to explain why I'm still travelin' / But there's a new day tomorrow and maybe I'll hold / Something brighter than gold to a seeker."

This is a political year and, as Earle writes, we are faced with a historic chance to change the direction in which the United States is moving. The release of this record two and a half months before we have to enter the voting booths should offer solace and inspiration to those ready to act.

The revolution does start now.







Rufus Wainwright Makes a Welcome Return to Pop with 'Unfollow the Rules'

Rufus Wainwright has done Judy Garland, Shakespeare, and opera, so now it's time for Rufus to rediscover Rufus on Unfollow the Rules.


Jazz's Denny Zeitlin and Trio Get Adventurous on 'Live at Mezzrow'

West Coast pianist Denny Zeitlin creates a classic and adventurous live set with his long-standing trio featuring Buster Williams and Matt Wilson on Live at Mezzrow.


The Inescapable Violence in Netflix's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui)

Fernando Frías de la Parra's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui) is part of a growing body of Latin American social realist films that show how creativity can serve a means of survival in tough circumstances.


Arlo McKinley's Confessional Country/Folk Is Superb on 'Die Midwestern'

Country/folk singer-songwriter Arlo McKinley's debut Die Midwestern marries painful honesty with solid melodies and strong arrangements.


Viserra Combine Guitar Heroics and Female Vocals on 'Siren Star'

If you ever thought 2000s hard rock needed more guitar leads and solos, Viserra have you covered with Siren Star.


The Band's Discontented Third LP, 1970's 'Stage Fright', Represented a World Braving Calamity

Released 50 years ago this month, the Band's Stage Fright remains a marker of cultural unrest not yet remedied.


Leila Sunier Delivers Stunning Preface to New EP via "Sober/Without" (premiere)

With influences ranging from Angel Olsen to Joni Mitchell and Perfume Genius, Leila Sunier demonstrates her compositional prowess on the new single, "Sober/Without".


Great Peacock Stares Down Mortality With "High Wind" (premiere + interview)

Southern rock's Great Peacock offer up a tune that vocalist Andrew Nelson says encompasses their upcoming LP's themes. "You are going to die one day. You can't stop the negative things life throws at you from happening. But, you can make the most of it."


The 80 Best Albums of 2015

Travel back five years ago when the release calendar was rife with stellar albums. 2015 offered such an embarrassment of musical riches, that we selected 80 albums as best of the year.


Buridan's Ass and the Problem of Free Will in John Sturges' 'The Great Escape'

Escape in John Sturge's The Great Escape is a tactical mission, a way to remain in the war despite having been taken out of it. Free Will is complicated.


The Redemption of Elton John's 'Blue Moves'

Once reviled as bloated and pretentious, Elton John's 1976 album Blue Moves, is one of his masterpieces, argues author Matthew Restall in the latest installment of the 33 1/3 series.


Whitney Take a Master Class on 'Candid'

Although covers albums are usually signs of trouble, Whitney's Candid is a surprisingly inspired release, with a song selection that's eclectic and often obscure.


King Buzzo Continues His Reign with 'Gift of Sacrifice'

King Buzzo's collaboration with Mr. Bungle/Fantômas bassist Trevor Dunn expands the sound of Buzz Osborne's solo oeuvre on Gift of Sacrifice.


Jim O'Rourke's Experimental 'Shutting Down Here' Is Big on Technique

Jim O'Rourke's Shutting Down Here is a fine piece of experimental music with a sure hand leading the way. But it's not pushing this music forward with the same propensity as Luc Ferrari or Derek Bailey.


Laraaji Returns to His First Instrument for 'Sun Piano'

The ability to help the listener achieve a certain elevation is something Laraaji can do, at least to some degree, no matter the instrument.


Kristin Hersh Discusses Her Gutsy New Throwing Muses Album

Kristin Hersh thinks influences are a crutch, and chops are a barrier between artists and their truest expressions. We talk about life, music, the pandemic, dissociation, and the energy that courses not from her but through her when she's at her best.


The 10 Best Fleetwood Mac Solo Albums

Fleetwood Mac are the rare group that feature both a fine discography and a successful series of solo LPs from their many members. Here are ten examples of the latter.


Jamila Woods' "SULA (Paperback)" and Creative Ancestry and Self-Love in the Age of "List" Activism

In Jamila Woods' latest single "SULA (Paperback)", Toni Morrison and her 1973 novel of the same name are not static literary phenomena. They are an artist and artwork as galvanizing and alive as Woods herself.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.