Steve Earle – Live On BBC Radio One

Have I mentioned that his backup band is called The Dukes? They’re pretty important. And now back to pretending they don’t exist.

This is Steve in England, an unlikely place to think he has a fanbase, but hey, it’s nice to see good music transcend the Atlantic (which, if it wore hats, should be called the Hatlantic, am I right? Near Hatlanta, the city where hat wearing is legally mandated). The audience seems pretty into it and so do Steve and the boys.

Still, the songs are what they are, and, aside from dragging out the intro of “Snake Oil” for over five minutes, the songs are pretty much the same. Which is mostly good, aside from “Even When I’m Blue” and “Little Rock ‘N’ Roller” being boring and cloying, respectively. And the rest are all grrrrreat songs! Steve’s voice is in fine ragged, twangy form (crickey I could listen to him just talk when he gets going), and the band likes their guitars.

But it’s still just a live album, even if it’s a good one. I don’t think any of these songs I’ll listen to instead of the originals, just for continuity and whatnot. For me, the most valuable part of this album is hearing Steve actually explain what some of the songs are about, a rarity for serious artists and such. For the most part it consists of dispelling my precious left-wing fantasies. Rather than transcribe, let me tell you:

One: “My Old Friend the Blues” is about hating when people try to cheer you up before it’s time to (awwww), “The Devil’s Right Hand” is a folksong about a 19th century juvenile delinquent and not a gun control song (“it’s way too late for gun control in the United States” Steve asplains), “Johnny Come Lately” isn’t an anti-war song (and somewhere out there is a version with The Pogues), “Snake Oil” is about how musicians and politicians are very similar in trying to sell their audiences. Not mentioned: that politicians are the world’s most important people while musicians just play their stupid instruments! And music critics just tappity tap on their little keyboards, but I digress.

There are two non-album tracks, which is one reason to give this album a spinaroo, even if they’re unremarkable. “When Will We Be Married” is a traditional Irish (I think) song with a great violin hook, so that’s rather awesome, and “Dead Flowers” is a Rolling Stones cover done the Townes Van Zandt way, but you really only need Townes’ version, this one tries to rock and it comes across poorly. But for an easter egg, turn the volume way up at the 0:21 mark of the latter to hear somebody yell “Skip to the music! Come on!” Otherwise there’s four songs from the debut (the awesome “Someday” and the sappy “Little Rock ‘N’ Roller” and the very good “My Old Friend the Jews” and “Down the Road”) just one from the second album (the meh “San Antonio Girl”) and five from “Copperhead Road” (nearly the entire first half plus “Even When I’m Blue” for some reason). The closer is the rockabilly “My Baby Worships Me,” and now I’m described every bleedin’ song! Nearly as good as I’ll call a live album, but still only barely worth your time.

Well, except for the guy yelling at Steve. And the traditional song.

7 / 10

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