Steve Earle has existed on the fringe of popular music for nearly 30 years, always maintaining a level of critical respect and writing songs for bigger-named artists, but never achieving huge sales numbers himself. Earle’s blip on the culture radar grew significantly in 2009 with the release of “Townes,” an acclaimed collection of covers in ode to his mentor Townes Van Zandt. Earle stands to gain more attention for his newest collection of originals, “I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive.”
Although Earle penned every song on the album, not every track is new per se. Several are collected from his contributions to other artists and projects. He wrote “God is God” for singer-songwriter Joan Baez originally, but decided to take his own crack at it. It’s tough to blame him as it’s a great track. “I believe in God, God ain’t us,” he croons sagely.
“Lonely Are The Free” was an originally part of the soundtrack to the film “Leaves of Grass.” Although the movie isn’t about Walt Whitman (despite its title), it’s easy to detect the poet’s influence in Earle’s songwriting.
The instrumental approach is one of utmost Americana, a sound like Creedence Clearwater Revival sans electric instruments, with touches of banjo and upright bass completing the feeling. Opening single “Waitin’ On The Sky” sounds like Earle went out into the neighborhood in his home state of Texas and gathered up a band to play in the garage.
Other Southern odes include “This City,” a tribute to post-Katrina New Orleans, in which Earle declares “this city won’t ever drown.” A collection of horns provides backing for the song and a taste of the track’s subject matter.
“Townes” was Earle’s biggest sales success when it debuted, reaching the staggering position of 19 on the Billboard charts. Fortune might not be foremost in Earle’s mind, but he would certainly deserve it after so many years of consistently good results.