“HARD times in the new millennium,” growled Steve Earle during 21st Century Blues, referring presumably not so much to matters personal as those for the world at large.
After hard times of his own across a long career the veteran Texas-raised folk, rock and country singer-songwriter has enjoyed steady success, both professional and personal, over the last decade. Earle’s latest album The Low Highway, recorded with current backing-band The Dukes (the best he claimed ever to have assembled, and it was hard to argue), is a typically high-quality slice of Americana charting life from the bottom looking up.
Earle’s acting career has taken off too – he featured prominently in acclaimed US crime drama The Wire and the gritty New Orleans post-Katrina set Treme (he also contributed to both shows’ soundtracks). The latter experience, he explained, in many ways inspired The Low Highway, and its essays on the fallout from the epic follies of Bush-era politics.
After a fully plugged-in opening phase – best moment the harmonic heartland-rock of Last of the Hardcore Troubadours – a folkier middle section coloured by Eleanor Whitmore’s fine fiddle playing followed, which at its most affecting produced Invisible’s heartfelt poem for the world’s too easily ignored down-and-outs.
Much (much) more was to come, from the bluegrass-y Warren Hellman’s Banjo to the Celtic swirl of The Galway Girl. As the set’s third hour grew old, Ain’t Ever Satisfied found a crowd still in full voice.