Music review: Steve Earle and The Dukes

FOR a songwriter whose political edge has long been well-established '“ a kind of Bruce Springsteen of the country-rock scene, or a Woody Guthrie filtered through later decades of rich, righteous West Coast Americana '“ Steve Earle did impressively well in avoiding polemic until the end of his set.
Steve EarleSteve Earle
Steve Earle

Far from indulging in obvious tub-thumping, the San Antonio-raised Earle instead laid out his recording plans for the near-future while strumming the opening chords to his closing song The Girl on the Mountain.

First, he said, he’s planning a tribute record of songs by the recently-departed Guy Clark, a companion piece to Earle’s Townes Van Zandt album; next, a political record which addresses the fractured situation in America, an announcement met with whoops and hollers by the crowd.

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In a recording career lasting more than three-and-a-half decades and 16 albums of his own, Earle’s presence has rarely felt more comforting.

Amid an extensive, nearly two-hour set, his world-weary growl found its way through an array of strikingly poignant moments; the “there’ll be no wire or walls” line from Jerusalem; the threat of racial violence in Taneytown; the dark, epic tale of migration and civil war in Dixieland, a monumental piece of storytelling in song.

Accompanied by his excellent band the Dukes, Earle wound through fan favourite Copperhead Road and a tense, prowling cover of Hey Joe.

Yet perhaps the most affecting moment was when he revealed just what to expect from that record-after-next. “If I can write songs which speak to those on the other side from me,” he said, “then I’ll get to call myself a political songwriter worth a damn.”