Hardcore troubadour smiles better but can't beat the rap
STEVE EARLE ***
Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, Thursday
IN THE past, it has not always been difficult to distinguish between Steve Earle and a ray of sunshine. Several soured marriages; troubles with drink, drugs and the law combined with political leanings at odds with America's contemporary climate have given the Texan native numerous songs but fewer reasons to smile.
Fortunately for his fans, a grouchy Earle is a creative one and the first half of this concert shows the guitar slinger and singer at his world-weary best. Typical Earle songs centre on blue collar Joes who are either looking forward to better times or looking back ruefully on wilder times.
Performing on his own, with just a handful of guitars and a couple of harmonicas, the first hour is a masterclass in gritty but poignant despondency. 'Goodbye' is beautifully desolate. 'Fort Worth Blues' is affectionately melancholy. One of his earliest songs, 'My Old Friend The Blues' is delivered suitably tenderly.
His latest album, Washington Square Serenade, makes up the second half of the gig. Much more hopeful in tone, it is, in many places, a love letter to both his new base of New York and his new wife, Allison Moorer, who joins him on stage for a few songs. Earle lights up at the sight of his missus and his delight shines through when they duet on 'The Days Aren't Long Enough'.
Less happy are Earle's attempts to use a DJ and decks to marry hip hop beats to his rootsy sound. On the new album, Dust Brother John King has skilfully woven beats and samples into Earle's songs. On record, it mostly works. Live, it mostly fails to convince. Earle sounds shackled to the beats and the songs lose spontaneity. It's not as cringeworthy as Tom Jones' foray into rap but nor is it as far-sighted as Dylan's decision to go electric.
All power to him for experimenting but the cheers are tellingly louder for the encores: a raucous 'Copperhead Road'; the anti-war sentiment of 'Christmas In Washington' and a surprisingly elegant version of the Pogues' 'If I Should Fall From Grace With God'.
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Wednesday 19 June 2013
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