Steve Earle – Guitar Town

Steve Earle, or “Early Steve” as he loved to be called, is a Nashville country musician. If you’re one of those “I like all types of music except country!!!!11” types then you shouldn’t listen. But you should listen if you like good music! It’s country, yes, but it’s not BAD country. Here are some reasons why:

One: There’s no stupid steel guitar defecating over everything.
Too: It’s very rockabillyish, meaning quicker tempos and that cool low guitar thing feature prominently. To the point: it’s fun music, not annoying boring country bullshit.
Twee: Perhaps most importantly, Steve Earle isn’t a dick. You can really tell. He’s against the death penalty and war and the war on drugs and other evil things. Here he glorifies going to college and working with one’s head as well as escaping from a depressing small town, instead of glorifying manual labour and staying in your hometown forever. And yes, he does this while talking about going down a “hillbilly highway.” But remember, kids, it’s not the word hillbilly that’s bad – it’s all the awful beliefs that are associated with it. Living in the hills is cool if it makes all involved to be happier and more useful people.

Now that I’ve excused the countryness of it all, the best part is that Steve’s got songwriting talent coming out of his puckering asshole. These songs are all simple tunes built on simple themes, but thanks to the joy of talent they’re nearly all impressive both musically and vocally. The hooks, my golly, the hooks! The first seven songs are all bigtime winners in the melody and music departments, and that combined with Steve’s adorably oddball twangyvoice (he says his Is like As!) should pull you past the occasionally sideways glance at a line like “I’m your good rockin’ daddy back from Tennessee.” The only outright bad song is “Little Rock’N’Roller”, which manages to be both treacly and despicable. Musically it’s filled with awful Christmasy triangles and such, and lyrically it tries to be about trying to be a good father while on the road but comes across more like a terrible father making his one yearly call to the child he abandoned before it grew up. I’m not going to feel sympathetic for such a character! It’s like the flipside of Everclear’s “Father Of Mine” but trying really hard to elicit symapthy for the father. Ugh! Also it’s the longest song on the album by almost a minute.

Hey, this review’s just as poorly written as my Blur reviews. Oh well! “Someday” is the best song here, a cathartic, a sad tale of a man working in a gas station in small town Tennessee – “there ain’t much to do in this town / You drive down to the lake then you turn right back around” which my girlfriend confirms is what being from a small town feels like. That big hook in the chorus is rather inspiring just to hear, it’s one of those moments of pure yes in music that justify listening to it all the time. Escape, people! The title track is incredibly catchy and makes a good driving song and just listen to all the variations on the musical motifs over the 2:34, “My Old Friend the Blues” is neat enough to feel like a cliche (but it wasn’t one), and the whimsical “Think It Over” never gets old. “Goodbye is All We’ve Got Left to Say” and “Hillbilly Highway” are stupidly catchy and interesting lyrically as well! And come on, bluegrass closer “Down the Road”? That’s great too, if a little slight.

Also, the album’s pretty short. Ten songs, just over an half. I could have used more of this stuff.

Also, I’m writing this as I fly above Texas, on my way back home from Mexico. The trip was about two weeks, structured around my sort of part-time job of being paid to participate in allergy drug testing. I have to get little injections every two weeks, you see, so I had to get back. It was actually pretty low-key, so let me talk about it anyway.

First I was in Mexico City for a week. Mexico City is a bustling, huge metropolis, far bigger than New York. It’s endlessly interesting and varied and cool and I never want to go there again. Mainly because it’s horribly polluted, even beyond the usual stench of spic. You get dirt under your nails just from walking around; there are no regulations on emissions and the traffic is everywhere and the old cars are everywhere. I’m a sensitive manchild, and I was sick half the time I was there with my delicate pampered immune system rebelling against every breath I breathed. The water from the taps is undrinkable. This means you have to plan every drink you take ahead of time as much as you have to plan for eating. If you’re thirsty at two in the morning and you didn’t plan then you’ll stay thirsty until the morning. To continue with the negativity, the city has this air of being unfinished and cobbled together. The streets are uneven and there are opportunities to fall off ledges everywhere. There was no clandestine system making sure everything is alright for everyone, and it’s not okay for everyone. There is an awful amount of poverty and I felt guilty for everywhere I didn’t go. The government murdered 1,000 students back in the 60s, and the international community never cared to be outraged. The “hip” neighbourhoods are actually the nice shopping districts, because only the fortunate have the luxury to be hip. On a related note, this is why venerating the working class for hipness is bullshit. The city knew that much, but that left the tourist parts and a vast unknown. I would’ve been completely lost there had my girlfriend not waved her magic friend wand and generated us Mexican friends.

So, some positives: First and least importantly, the weather’s really nice. Maybe not in summer, but in winter it’s literally thirty degrees warmer there than it is back home. Every day felt perfect on the skin. I’m sure in summer it’s unbearably hot, butt fuck, it was fucking nice. Two, as I mentioned, it’s huge and bustling; these are good things. Three: as it’s not really a tourist destination, the people don’t really give a fuck that you’re there. Well, they DO stare at you like you’re an albino (and you kinda are one by comparison), but they don’t give a fuck about the fact that tourists come, aside from the part where you have money. If you’re comfortably speaking English you’ve done something wrong, if not twenty years wrong, and I only say that because I don’t think we met a single fluent speaker there aside from our friends. Face it, whiteys: you like “authenticity.” Yes, you do. So do I. Well, it’s easy to find here. Take any city bus, go to any small cantina, walk in any direction for an hour. Unlike most other capital cities (even Toronto to some degree) there is little hate for the centre of town, even though that’s where you find your backpackers. And the friends my girlfriend imagined up were lovely people as far as I could tell. We drank pulque and rode canal boats and saw the University and ate wonderful food (it’s not hard to be vegetarian) and I’m sure I’m forgetting many things.  Oh, and it’s cheap as a Jew on Boxing Day. The subway costs thirty cents, for example, while meals for two cost about ten dollars and beers (in bars) run you at most two bucks each (in pesos). Also, of course, there’s plentiful and wonderful tequila and deliciously unclean street food everywhere. Try the corn in cups! To get pretentious: Mexico City isn’t a place for tourists, it’s a place for travellers. I enjoyed my time, but it was anything but relaxing. After a week we left for the coastal town of Zihuatanejo, which I’ll write about in the next review. I’m almost at DFW, you see. The stupid wireless up here costs something stupid like $10 per hour. Gotta say, American Airlines, with its pricy internets and policy of serving no food at all is not making me a happy consumer.

And Steve Earle? I’m listening to this album for the third time in a row and it’s still great.

Except for “Little Rock’N’Roller.” That sucks. And “Fearless Heart” is too Rod Stewart. But how can you not love country-singin’ liberals? He’s kinda like John Prine with serious depression problems. Actually, he really was like John Prine, only with more exciting substance abuse problems than Japers’ love of the sauce.

8 / 10

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