Steve Earle – Train A-Comin’

Gather round, kids, and let old man Myles tell you about the time your uncle Steve went a little “funny.” You see, Steve liked to take a lot of medicine, and one day a long time ago he decided he’d taken too much bad medicine and went to a special house where they help you not to take so much of it. And when uncle Steve came out he did a very silly thing and record an entirely acoustic album of oddball songs.

Yes, I’m not sure of the impact of the addictions and withdrawals and such, but it had been five years since his last album, and luckily his songwriting talent and charming voice didn’t leave him, or this’d be a total waste of time. Like my same complaint against most of Steve’s lesser works, the problem with this one is that it seems rather inconsequential, maybe as much therapy for the artist as enjoyment for the listener. It sounds like something someone recorded in their living room, for crikeying out loud!

If anything it’s closer to a folk album than a country album, with the exception of the very country “Goodbye”. And when I say acoustic I mean there’s nothing but guitars and lub-dub-dum stand-up bass and a couple wayward fiddles. There are certainly some weak points – the slight love songs “Nothing Without You” (which has the same melody as “Rider in the Rain” by Randy Newman) and “Sometimes She Forgets”, and the covers, The Beatles’ “I’m Looking Through You” and the overdone psalm “Rivers of Babylon” don’t do a whole lot, while “Northern Winds” is just a nice little instrumental. The last in particular is ruined by a backup singer guy singing “sing it out my sisterrrs!” as well as the fact that the psalm itself is horribly violent and ends with the singer fantasizing about murdering his captors’ children by smashing their heads against rocks. So yeah, always have a problem with singing that one joyously.

But elsewhere – oh, elsewhere! You can’t argue (sure you can) that nothing sounds more charming than an acoustic geetar and there’s a lot of it here in interesting ways. There’s the slow, sad songs, the aforementioned “Goodbye” – Steve may not be the greatest at love songs but the sentiment of “I can’t remember if we ever said goodbye” gets me everytime – and worker-song “Tecumseh Valley” (though they share the same style a bit closely), some storytelling in the excellent “Tom Ames’ Prayer” and the Civil War tune “Ben McCullough”, some bluesing (“Angel is the Devil” and “Hometown Blues”)…many of them sound a bit unfinished, but if that really bothers you then you’re missing the point. Treat this album as if you stumbled upon one of the best open mics ever. It’s filled with charming lines and musical phrases and its really only marred by the filler and the sameness of every song being acoustic. Which are some serious marrings, but its the difficult sound of Steve getting back on the music train. Aw, now I’ve gone and referenced the album title. And no, there’s on here explicitly about drugs, except maybe “Goodbye”. It’s not like that.

And that’s the story of “Train A Comin’,” kids. Now stay gathered ’round while I explain the evils of the pork industry.
He does, convincing the reader never to eat such an intelligent and harmless mammal again.

7 / 10

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