Music Reviews

Steve Earle

Transcendental Blues

E-Squared / Artemis Records

Steve Earle adds yet another square to a quilt that will probably never lay flat. Every song links to another one, and I’m sure that time will show that they also link to songs that are as-yet unwritten. This gives his work a wonderful, multi-layered, spatial quality that gives a whole new dimension to his current offerings, as well as the best of his older work. These songs all stand alone, but you really have to get familiar with a good bit of his catalog in order to really get the full impact of his artistry.

Maybe as well as anyone else in his field, Earle understands bodybuilding when it comes to his body of work. There is a value-added factor that comes with all his cross-referencing. While there is enough consistency in his work to clearly stamp his trademarks on every song, you can link nearly every one to another one from his catalog, or even further back to any number of great classic songs or artists who have inspired him.

This recording has been long-rumored be his next “rock and roll” recording. It’s not really, unless you classify an album according to its title cut and a handful of other songs. Much like the earlier El Corazon, this one is primarily classic Steve Earle material that has been salted with some rock and roll offerings. It’s just that this one leads off with “Transcendental Blues,” which is a great rock and roll song, as is the second cut. The rock and roll included in this release is more sophisticated and has a more psychedelic or mystical feel to it than that found on the El Corazon release. It hearkens back to a style and production more like some of the late Beatles or Byrds offerings.

The bulk of this recording is classic Steve Earle in style. It includes at least one song, “Steve’s Last Ramble,” that I’d suspect he’s been holding for quite awhile, just waiting until he could really say that he’s really had his “last ramble.” It also include a few well-done bluegrass numbers that are very ably executed with the help of the Bluegrass Dukes, a loose-knit group anchored by Tim O’Brien and Darrell Scott. The rock and roll offerings are aided in part by members of the latest act to join the E-Squared roster, Philadephia-based Marah, as well as the latest incarnation of the Dukes. Tom Petty keyboardist Benmont Tench also guests on a cut or two. One of my favorites is the Jules Shear (or Shel Silverstein, depending on your level of sophistication)-inspired “The Boy Who Never Cried.” The Japanese-only release will have a bonus song – a cover of Kurt Cobain’s “Breed.” All in all, it’s a very eclectic mix of material and styles, but it all holds together very well.

E-Squared, 200 Division St., Nashville, TN 37203


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