What does it sound like?:
It’s a bluegrass album spawned by his role in the off-Broadway play Coal Country which was about the death of 29 Virginia coal miners in an avoidable disaster due to flouting of safety regulations, greed over workers interests etc. So it is classic fodder for Steve – exploited workers,coal, oppressive bosses, bluegrass, unions etc. Steve performed on stage each night of the play and I am surethis added to his motivation in writing these songs for the play.
On stage he plays solo but on record he has great backing from the Dukes. Not the classic Dukes with Kelly Looney et al but latter period. To quote from All Music Guide “The muscular blend of bluegrass, country, and rock summoned by the Dukes — guitarist Chris Masterson, pedal steel player Ricky Jay Jackson, fiddler Eleanor Whitmore, bassist Jeff Hill, and drummer Brad Pemberton joining Earle on guitar and banjo — gives the music vivid, forceful, and unsentimental life”.
I had a look at his discography and, to my mind, the last really good record he has done was the Revolution Starts Now in 2004 and this is a worthy successor. After that there was the move to NYC with Allison, he put out Washington Serenade with that Satellite Radio lightweight stuff, a couple of tribute albums to Townes and Guy – hello writers block, and a couple of other “ok” albums but nothing you want to go back to. This one has some bite -even in the song titles:”
Heaven Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere
Union, God and Country
Devil Put the Coal in the Ground
John Henry Was a Steel Drivin’ Man
Time is Never on Our Side
It’s About Blood
If I Could See Your Face Again
Fastest Man Alive
Devil Put The Coal In The Ground alone tells me he has his mojo back on this record.I’ve been buying his last few records more out of allegiance than enthusiasm but I will be pulling out the plastic with confidence this time.
What does it all *mean*?
Remember when you are at school and you had to write an essay on “anything you like”? More often than not I’d go “fuck, I have no idea what to say”. But if a set a topic that interested me I’d research the topic, structure it, make sure I was clear in what I wanted to say and that I was clear in saying what I wanted to say.
Maybe Steve just needed a bit of discipline.
Goes well with…
A Kentucky bourbon and a raised fist.
Might suit people who like…
The voice of Steve Earle, politicised music, blue grass.