First Listen: Steve Earle and The Low Highway
I wait for new Steve Earle albums now the same way I used to wait for a new Grateful Dead studio album. With great anticipation, knowing that whatever I get will be special. And to clear up the mistake in the title of this post, it’s not “Steve Earle”; it’s Steve Earle and The Dukes (& Duchesses). So on this bright and sunny day in the Hudson Valley, just a week since my friend Larry was murdered and a week from when I’ll begin working again after two and a half years on the bread line, I’m sitting here listening to The Low Highway. The phrase “of comfort and joy” comes to mind. Join me as I listen and scribe what comes to mind, and sprinkle in some facts and maybe some lies here and there.
The Low Highway: Starts with just his guitar. You think it’ll be a Woody’s Children tune but it slides into a country vibe, with pedal steel. Beautiful poetry in these lyrics.
Calico County: The band is playing in the pocket, sort of a blues and boogie riff. Steve is as much reciting as singing, reminding me of a Dylan track or two backed by Little Feat.
Burnin’ It Down: I know this song. Think he might have played it a few months ago when I saw him in Jersey. Could easily be one of the three tracks on the album that were first heard on “Treme”, but it’s not.
That All You Got?: Now this one is a Cajun romp and does come from “Treme”, but it was originally performed on the show by Lucia Micarelli with the Red Stick Ramblers. This is a duet and I can’t tell if it’s Lucia or Allison singin’ with him.
Love’s Gonna Blow My Way: Old time blues pickin’ kicks it off, little fiddlin’ at first, that keeps building up. Co-written by Micarelli and featured on “Treme” as was “After Mardi Gras” which is coming up next. Lucia…is that you playing here?
After Mardi Gras: Full band playin’ and it’s a mid-tempo story. Not what you’d expect from a song with Mardi Gras in the title, and I can’t recall hearing it on the program. The fiddle comes in again…but no brass band. Almost sounds like a ‘feel good’ song….hell, it is.
Pocket Full Of Rain: Not sure what to make of this one. Piano based. Got a lil’ Tom Waits ‘on a good day’ feel to it.
Invisible: Been watching the video on this one for a few weeks now. This is, if there is such a thing, a classic modern-day NYC Earle track. Despite the light touch of the pedal steel, it’s a city song.
Warren Hellman’s Banjo: An homage to the man who founded the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival in SF. Deep Irish roots on the banjo and fiddle interplay. Too short…wish he stretched it.
Down The Road Pt. II: Stayin’ with the bluegrass vibe, singin’ with that Texas accent. Mixes in a little electric guitar for a sec. Now a dancehall feel closes it out.
21st Century Blues: Opening guitar riff reminds me of the Easybeats’ “Friday On My Mind”. Singing about technology and the economy…mentions the age of Aquarius and apocalypse.
Remember Me: His voice is in that twisted and grizzled mode you’ve heard before, deep Texan. Guitar sounds like a 1930’s Martin with rusted strings like it’s been sittin’ in the corner waiting for this song to be written. Band comes in after awhile, light dirge drum, wailin’ steel. Saved the best for the closer. This is why I love Earle.
Earle states in the album liner notes, “I’ve been on every interstate highway in the lower forty-eight states by now and I never get tired of the view. I’ve seen a pretty good chunk of the world and my well-worn passport is one of my most prized possessions, but for me, there’s still nothing like the first night of a North American tour; everybody, band and crew, crowded up in the front lounge, eating Nashville hot chicken and Betty Herbert’s homemade pimento cheese, swapping the same tired old war stories half shouted over the rattle and hum of the highway. And I’m always the last one to holler good night to Charlie Quick, the driver, and climb in my bunk because to me it feels like Christmas Eve long ago when I still believed in Santa Claus. God I love this.”
The release date from New West Records is April 16th, and this album is also the first to feature “The Dukes” band name since 1987’s Exit 0. The Low Highway features his live band consisting of Chris Masterson, Eleanor Whitmore, Kelley Looney, Will Rigby and Allison Moorer and was co-produced by Earle and Ray Kennedy (whose production partnership is known as the “Twangtrust”). The Low Highway is Earle’s 15th studio album since the release of his highly influential 1986 debut Guitar Town. It will be available as a single compact disc, deluxe CD/DVD set, digitally, as well as 180 gram vinyl.
These two live tracks come from a performance a couple weeks ago on the Ron and Fez Show.
Here’s the link to pre-order the CD/DVD Deluxe Edition on Amazon.
Of comfort and joy….