A chip on the shoulder for the downtrodden

Issue 

The Mountain
Steve Earle and the Del McCoury Band
E-Squared Records
Order from <http://www.e2records.com/index2.html>

Review by Bill Nevins

"To listen to the radio, you'd think that all was well,/ But you and me and Cisco know, it's goin' straight to hell,/ So come back, Woody Guthrie, come back to us now,/ Tear your eyes from paradise and rise again somehow!" — "Christmas in Washington" (from El Corazón).

"I took a union stand, no matter what the company said,/ And just as long as I'm able I won't give in/ 'Cause I'm a Harlan Man,/ A coal minin' mother 'til the day I'm dead!" — "Harlan Man" (from The Mountain).

Steve Earle woke up the laid-back Folk Alliance national conference in Albuquerque in April with an impromptu solo concert of songs about angry working folk.

"Anybody who leaves the room now is an arsehole!", declared Earle as he introduced the militant leaders of Philadelphia's Kensington Welfare Rights Union, who, together with local Chicano and indigenous activists, led a rousing discussion of how music can confront the savage beast threatening the very lives of the poor in the United States today.

"In your face" has always been the most obvious description of Earle's public persona: an outlaw image that makes Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson look like choirboys. This is the country star who, on his hit album, Copperhead Road, called Ronald Reagan a snake-oil salesman.

While his language, rhythms and lifestyle may be rough, Earle has maintained a profound integrity. He will go where his muse and the music take him, be that to heaven or to hell and back again, with no apologies.

Earle enjoys alternating rock albums with more roots-based collections, but his albums are always linked by striking lyrics, both confrontational and touching. Copperhead Road was followed by the beautiful folk CD, Train A-Comin', and the hard-rocking, drug-soaked Feelin' Alright was followed by the thoughtful ballads of El Corazón and by his latest, the all bluegrass The Mountain.

The Mountain is a classic bluegrass album. Earle's lyrical gift and gruff vocals combine with the top-drawer bluegrass talent of the Del McCoury Band (worthy heirs of bluegrass legend Bill Monroe). It's tough-guy music played straight ahead, fast and smiling proud — with a chip on the shoulder for the downtrodden and a tear in the eye for the wonders of love.

Earle's composition "I'm Still in Love With You", the centrepiece of The Mountain, will be played by bluegrass and country bands a century from now. And the other cuts on the album are worthy to stand with that high point. A great CD.

Visit Steve Earle's web page at <http://www.steveearle.net>.

[Bill Nevins lives in Albuquerque, USA. He writes on Irish politics and cultural topics for a number of progressive publications.]