Steve Earle: The Definitive Collection: 1983-1987

Summarizing Steve Earle’s amazing career in one disc just isn't possible, but you can't go wrong with any compilation of the master.

Steve Earle

The Definitive Collection: 1983-1997

Label: Hip-O
US Release Date: 2006-08-29
UK Release Date: 2006-08-29

If there's one figure in country music that epitomizes the true ethos of the genre, it's Steve Earle. While other singers water down the genre to suit their marketing plan or contrive a hokey image to seem credible, Earle has lived the life -- and probably wishes he hadn't. For every success he has experienced, Earle has suffered an equal amount of trouble, and most of it has been self-inflicted: heroin addiction, blown record deals, brawls, legal woes, incarceration, divorces... As the saying goes, you couldn't make this shit up, and if you could, you wouldn't want to actually subject somebody to it. All of these dramas and traumas, though, have only made Earle's music that much more personal and real. He may have blown his chance at mainstream success long ago, but he has constructed something much greater in the process -- a legacy.

Interestingly, as The Definitive Collection: 1983-1997 shows, Earle tried his best to play by the rules early in his career, but couldn't be anything other than himself. When Earle began his career in the early '80s, he was immediately lumped into the New Traditionalist subgenre, a movement (of sorts) that sought to bring country back to its roots. Along with Dwight Yoakam, Earle was viewed as the next savior, the man who would finally kick the Urban Cowboy garbage off the dial. So, in other words, the New Traditionalists were loved for being rebels, but only in that they rebelled in all the approved ways; the title, in this sense, reveals it all -- New Traditionalist. Rebels with a cause. Rebels who would have been real rebels three decades earlier.

Indeed, the first track on The Definitive Collection, "Nothin' But You", shows a young, restless Earle trying desperately to dissent in the acceptable manners, but finding it hard to stay within the prescribed ways to be different. Classic honky-tonk rock, "Nothin' But You" sees Earle harkening back to the early days of Sun Studio. Bathed in reverb, his voice sounds oddly like Roy Orbison's -- odd because Earle’s voice is not known for being pretty, and, as Springsteen once said, "Nobody sings like Roy Orbison."

By "Guitar Town", however, Earle was already developing his own style. Like the album of the same title, the song captures a rougher-edged Earle telling stories in song rather than merely singing tunes. "Good Ol' Boy (Gettin' Tough)", for example, explores the themes that have become synonymous with Earle: the struggles of the working man, the class divisions in the United States, the self-destructive things people do when ensnared by desperation. The song is classic Earle, though it lacks the overtly polemical politics and scathing bite of his nineties' work.

Perhaps Guitar Town is over-represented on The Definitive Collection; one-third of the tracks on this collection come from Earle’s full-length debut, which is out of proportion for a man who released ten albums during the period this compilation covers. Copperhead Road is the second most represented album here, which is expected since it’s a landmark album in Earle's career. As evidenced by the hard-rock sound of the title track, Copperhead Road was another step away from the oppressive rules of Nashville, as well as another step to the left. "Devil's Right Hand", also included here, is a subtle jab at the pro-gun mentality. The narrator shoots a man for cheating in a card game, but sincerely pleads not guilty because "nothing touched the trigger but the devil's right hand". Maybe the finest track here, however, is from 1997's El Corazón; "Christmas in Washington" is Earle's weary plea for Woody Guthrie to come back and fix the cold, corrupt state of politics. Not only is it a spot-on assessment of the current political climate, it's also another link in a long tradition of American folk songs that Guthrie perfected.

If there's one shortcoming to this collection, though, it's that it does not sufficiently present the scope and depth of Earle's career, which would take at least a double album -- if not a box set -- to achieve. Like many compilations of accomplished musicians, this one condenses too much, selecting the obvious tracks that are most associated with a period or achieved the greatest notoriety upon release. Of course, these compilations are supposed to be broad anthologies, not in-depth archives, and they're aimed to the broadest audience possible. Still, for avid fans of Earle, The Definitive Collection offers little new but "Nothing But You", which isn't as readily available as the other tracks.

Moreover, by ending with 1997's El Corazón and focusing on Earle's more well-known songs, The Definitive Collection omits some of his recent forays into psychedelia ("Transcendental Blues"), calypso/reggae ("Condi, Condi"), traditional Irish music ("Galway Girl"), and a host of other styles. Also missing are the astounding duets Earle has made with numerous singers, such as "Poison Lovers" and "Comin' Around". And the liner notes? Well, they offer a thorough synopsis, but tell the making of Earle's legend as it's been told many times before.

And yet, for all the omissions, you can't go amiss with nineteen tracks from an undeniable master like Steve Earle. He's a man who doesn’t do filler, and you could listen to his entire discography and never heard a dud. Indeed, what this collection does accurately reveal is Earle’s genius; right from the beginning he possessed an innate knack for melody, harmony, and hooks -- even if his style and voice have grown increasingly gruff. So, if you're an avid Earle collector, you might skip this one because you've heard and read everything here before. If, however, you're among the unschooled, this is a solid start. Just get ready to allot a hundred dollars or so out of your next check for your newly-created Steve Earle library.


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

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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