thu 02/07/2020

CD: Steve Earle & the Dukes - Terraplane | reviews, news & interviews

CD: Steve Earle & the Dukes - Terraplane

CD: Steve Earle & the Dukes - Terraplane

Country rock perennial gives his slant on raw southern blues

Earle offers up a colourful and often entertaining ride

There’s a lot to like about Steve Earle. He wears his hard times in clear view but has come out of them emanating a gritty positivism. Like Neil Young – in more ways than one – he also displays an admirable refusal to do the predictable. From his appearances in the TV series The Wire to his novel, I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive, to the multiplicity of musical styles displayed on his 15 previous albums, he never seems tethered to the demands of any entertainment industry treadmill. At heart he’s a songwriter and Terraplane is his first stab at an all-out blues album.

Happily, he doesn’t go the polished route. Recorded in Nashville with Buddy Guy protégé RS Field, the rough edges are left in. Earle has long had an understanding of the lo-fi ethos but that isn’t to say virtuosity is absent. One listen to the guitar solo on “Better Off Alone” will tell you that. At its best, such rough edges lend his deceptively straightforward songs a power, as with the raucous ode to singlehood “Better Off Alone”. On the downside, however, there’s too much that comes on like any old bar band lighting up on a Saturday night. Perhaps that’s the point. Earle’s assaying of such material is not unpleasant, but it’s still predictable roadhouse blues rock.

The best material, on the other hand, stands out. The rolling raga-flavoured “The Tennessee Kid”, with its drawled spoken voiceover, recalls nothing less than James Luther Dickinson’s 1972 masterpiece Dixie Fried, while, at the other end of the spectrum, a shuffling jazzy duet with Dukes fiddler Eleanor Whitmore, “Baby’s Just as Mean as Me”, charms like Louis Armstrong. This leads into a delicious closing segment featuring the equally laid back, down-home acoustic picking of “Gamblin’ Blues” before finishing with the slow, sleazy throb of “King of the Blues”, a near-perfect concoction of cocky lyrics and attitude that Nick Cave or even The Rolling Stones might envy. Never mind the stodge, there's juicy stuff here too.

Overleaf: watch Steve Earler perform "You're the Best Lover That I Ever Had"

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