Steve Earle & The Dukes (& Duchesses) - The Low Highway LP
180 gram vinyl pressing.
New West Records
Over the past 27 years Steve Earle's music has journeyed all across the Americana spectrum: country, rock, folk, Beatlesque psychedelia, topical folk songs, etc. He's even done a covers record of Townes Van Zandt songs to pay tribute to his late mentor and friend. His very best offerings are those he's recorded with his Twang Trust production partner, Ray Kennedy. They're together here. Over 12 songs, Earle does what he does best: he tells stories that get under the skin and into the bones. Backed by the Dukes (& Duchesses), his road band, the title track's first-person vignette captures the strangeness and contradiction of America from a small vantage point, a first-person narrative about traveling. His world-weary voice brings the listener into the meld of fiddle, strummed acoustic guitars, and whining pedal steel and keeps her there, seeing it all through his eyes. "Calico County" is a straight-up rocker with whomping electric guitars, Fender Rhodes, bass, and drums. "Burnin' It Down" is the other side of the roaming romantic of "I Ain't Ever Satisfied," defeated, angry, bewildered about what happened to those dreams and his town. Allison Moorer's accordion lends a poignant undercurrent to the guitars. "After Mardi Gras," written for Lucia Micarelli's character in the HBO series Treme, is delivered with a gentle swing, and a tender violin solo by Eleanor Whitmore. This contrasts with the barroom boogie of "Pocket Full of Rain," driven by Moorer's piano, fiddle, and a strolling upright bassline by Kelly Looney. "Down the Road, Pt. 2" is a roiling trucker country number, infused with the spirit of Bill Monroe thanks to Earle's mandolin. The closer, "Remember Me," a slow, 4/4 Americana number, is a plea from a father to his child; it's one of the most moving, poetic songs in Earle's catalog. The singer is accompanied only by his acoustic guitar in the first half, before Will Rigby's loose-tuned snare and bass drum, accompanied by upright bass, mandolin, and pedal steel, enter. The song is a testament of familial faith, an offering of unwavering love with a lone request: that the protagonist not be forgotten no matter life's turns. The Low Highway is Earle the storyteller without any agenda save for getting the songs right, telling stories, and recording songs that will resonate as deeply live as they do here. This may be his most consistent offering since El Corazón.