Last updated: 9 April 2000
"I have spent most of my life (like most people) avoiding transcendence at all costs, mainly because the shit hurts. Merely defining transcendence can sometimes be painful. I once heard that "Transcendence is the act of going through something". Ouch. I see plate glass windows and divorces. Someone else told me that it was "rising above whatever one encountered in one's path" but at this point in my life that smacks of avoidance as well as elitism of some sort. I am compelled to look back on years of going through, above, as well as around my life looking for loopholes to redefine everything including any and all of the ideas that I have held close to my heart along the way - Art - Freedom - Justice - Revolution - Love (a big one) - Growth - Passion - Parenting (a really big one) - and I find that for me, for now, transcendence is about being still enough long enough to know when it's time to move on. Fuck me."
—Steve Earle (Chicago, January 2000)
With Transcendental Blues, his latest release on E-Squared/Artemis, Steve Earle continues to expand and consolidate his broad musical palate; delivering his fifth consecutive pillar-to-post jewel since his triumphant return in 1995 from a nearly-four-year recording hiatus.
Almost single-handedly setting country music on its collective ear in the '80s with the hillbilly rock of Guitar Town and its four successors, Earle would become a guiding light in the alternative country of the '90s with his ambitious blend of the attitude of outlaw country, the sheer power of heartland rock populism and the well-crafted lyrical commitment of America's greatest singer/songwriters.
All of that would have been more than enough for most folks, but Steve Earle — like Bob Dylan, John Lennon and John R. Cash — is in it for the long haul; repeatedly uncovering and tapping into a myriad of sources while maintaining an artistic essence which is unmistakably his own.
Drawing on strong, snaky roots which tap into ancient waters, Earle welded rock muscle to country, Texas to Nashville, traditional to progressive, Beatles to Stones, Irish to Americana, punk to bluegrass and, uh, the blues to transcendence.
Backed by a sterling combo of Norman Blake, Peter Rowan, (the late) Roy Huskey, Jr. and Emmylou Harris, 1995's Grammy-nominated Train A Comin' was arguably the musical and physical comeback of the decade.
Newly energized, Steve Earle and Jack Emerson formed E-Squared Records, and Earle launched a six year (and counting) stretch of unmatched, high quality productivity. In addition to his own brilliant discs (1996's I Feel Alright, 1997's Grammy-nominated El Corazón and 1999's Grammy-nominated collaboration with The Del McCoury Band, The Mountain), Earle, his "twangtrust" production partner Ray Kennedy and E-Squared delivered acclaimed releases by Cheri Knight, The V-Roys, 6 String Drag and Bap Kennedy. In 1998, again with Kennedy, Earle co-produced Lucinda Williams' Grammy-winning Car Wheels On A Gravel Road.
Ray and Steve have again worked their magic on Transcendental Blues as Earle and his current edition of The Dukes (guitarist David Steele, bassist Kelley Looney and drummer Will Rigby) continue to explore and blur the boundaries of country, pop, bluegrass, rock and Irish music.
Earle's long-held Beatles/Merseybeat jones is very much in evidence, either flat-out — as on the psychedelic title track and the rubbery soul of "Everyone's In Love With You" — or in hybrid on the touching, Jules Shear-goes-Fab beauties, "I Can Wait" and "The Boy Who Never Cried."
The singer has discovered a spiritual home-away-from-home in Galway, Ireland, and a musical soulmate in that town's extraordinary accordion player, Sharon Shannon. Recorded in Dublin, Ireland with Shannon and her crisp, left-of-trad Irish band, "Steve's Last Ramble" conjures up a giddy Dylan on a two-step breakaway, while the lilting "The Galway Girl" magically closes the gap between the Emerald Isle and the Great Smoky Mountains.
"Another Town" and "Wherever I Go" are vintage Earle shitkickers — the latter taking on a distinct Petty flavor with the addition of Benmont Tench's swirling organ and David Steele's chiming electric 12-string. Steve and sister Stacey Earle team up to interweave a classic country duet with ringing folk-rock on the memorable "When I Fall."
Earle keeps his hill-country hand sharp with Tim O'Brien & The Bluegrass Dukes (featuring ringers Darrell Scott, Casey Driessen and Dennis Crouch) on the sprightly pledge, "Until The Day I Die" — check out the wondrous interplay of Steve, Tim and Darrell's vocals!
"Lonelier Than This," "Halo 'Round The Moon" and "Over Yonder (Jonathan's Song)" pay elegant homage to Earle's singer/songwriter mentors, and perhaps only a man who's been married six times could have added that last word to the gorgeous "I Don't Want To Lose You Yet."
The stompin', tuneful "All Of My Life" seamlessly bridges the gap between grunge and '60s garage rock via the power trio of Steve, brother Patrick Earle on drums and Ray Kennedy on bass.
Incredibly, Steve Earle finds time outside of music to work for political causes in which he has been active for decades. In his passionate fight against the death penalty, Earle has been involved with The Journey Of Hope and is affiliated with Tennessee Coalition to Abolish State Killings (TCASK) and the Abolitionist Action Committee. He has worked for Amnesty International and has visited Vietnam and Cambodia as part of his work with the Campaign for a Landmine Free World (in conjunction with the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation), and has more recently become active in the Kensington Welfare Rights Union.
He spends what free time he can muster writing songs and fiction in Galway. His first book of short stories, Doghouse Roses, is tentatively scheduled for a Spring 2001 release.
When all is said and done, Steve Earle wasn't the next Springsteen nor was he the next Waylon (never mind that we still have the first editions of both in stock). What he did accomplish — through force of will and sheer talent--was to come back to become the next Steve Earle, and that has turned out to be more than enough.
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© 1995-2003Lisa Kemper (firstname.lastname@example.org) – All Rights Reserved
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