Steve Earle – Early Tracks

And neither is this one! There’s a better excuse for this, though: this is a collection of earlier songs made before Guitar Town and wisely left unreleased. The historical interest is limited: Early Steve (as he is called by eminent critics) used to be all rockabilly. Also, his earlier songs weren’t much besides “hey! A rockabilly song! Hey! Another rockabilly song!” Most of the songs here are very simple, usually with just your guitar, bass, drums, and Steve’s queerly Elvis-y vocals, only amplified by the songs sounding so fifties. They’re mostly basic love songs and have titles like “If You Need a Fool” or “Nothin’ But You.”

It’s not really a shame, though. The saving grace of the album is that it’s clear that in here is an interesting artist trying to escape, and escape it would. This album was only released as a cash-in on the success of “Guitar Town” by Early’s company. But yes, the signs are plentiful: see the awesome guitar tone on “Nothin’ But You” and the cocky lyric of “My Baby Worships Me” (it’s actually a pretty great inversion of whatever to hear a country song consisting of a man bragging about a girl paying his way in the world) and the early version of the brilliant anti-gun song “The Devil’s Right Hand”, which was luckily saved until it was an even better song.

Of course it’s interesting to hear how Early started out, but there’s not much to say beyond “he used to sound like he wanted to be other people and had a chuggachugga country bar band that sang love songs.” But there’s not much to “Open Up Your Door” or “Squeeze Me In” or “Cadillac” or the sub-Marvellian “Annie, Is Tonight the Night” (particularly not a question mark). But hey, they’re all fun to listen to, and that does count for quite a bit, that they have the nearly indivisible quality of coolness.

Also, this album was originally stupidly short; the original release was just ten songs and twenty-four minutes long. Asshole guitar companies! Record ones too. I can easily see myself paying full album price for the new “Early Steve” album and realizing it was just a short compilation of early songs and freaking out, beating my head against the wall again and again and again while muttering “stupid stupid stupid” and drinking straight tequila alone in my apartment, wishing for a concussion but only giving myself a headache. The version I have adds two singles, “What’ll You Do About Me” and “A Little Bit In Love” and their terrible B-sides, including “The Crush,” where he thinks he’s The Coasters or something. They’re worse than most of the songs on the “album,” so I’ll never understand why they were singles, but at least the release here stops them from being the subject of endless Early fanhunting and exploitation only to realize they sucked after paying $40 for a copy of the original singles. At least that’s what’d happen to me.

And it’s still more fun than the last album, by far. It’s charmingly retro. I have a soft spot for albums I can play in the background of social functions.

6 / 10

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