Monday, July 2, 2012

"Exit 0" by Steve Earle & The Dukes (1987)

View the Premise & Ground Rules for Revisiting Vinyl

Filed between: The Eagles and Earth, Wind & Fire

Obtained via: my mother-in-law bought it for me

My Overall Rating of the Tracks Separately:
REQUIRED LISTENING (4/4 stars).  Seriously, if you haven't heard every song on this record, you owe it to yourself to check them out.

Key Tracks:
Like I just said, they're all great.  I'll try to pick the best of the best.  Nowhere Road is what I deeply wish mainstream country had become.  Speaking of which, No. 29!  Take that Kenny Chesney and Billy Ray Cyrus - THAT'S how you do a football song!  I bet within five minutes of hearing The Rain Came Down, John Mellencamp kicked himself hard for not writing it.  I Ain't Ever Satisfied is one of those songs that just resonates with me.  By the way, in a weird twist (or perhaps an act of outright theft), The Gin Blossoms also have a rather good song with the exact same melody as I Ain't Ever Satisfied titled... 29.  (Yeah, it's looking more like outright theft.)  And then there's Angry Young Man with the line "I gotta live like I please or die tryin'."  That pretty much sums up Steve Earle the man and explains why I love his music so much.

To put it another way, one can never overstate the importance of Steve Earle.

The man is a singular mix of elements.  He lived Outlaw Country (moreso even than the characters in most Outlaw Country songs) before he released his first record.  There is a wold-weariness of the informed in his music.  He has a sweeping lyrical style akin to Springsteen.  Come to think of it, "Exit 0" feels an awful lot like "The River."  In my book, that's a big compliment.  He has a great knack for characterization.  And he has an ear for what makes a great tune; this last item being his inroad to his mainstream success.  But then he obliterated his mainstream ties by going to prison - real prison.  He may have lost his mainstream appeal, but he gained something far more valuable.  Credibility.

Hank Jr. goes to bed every night wishing he was Steve Earle.  Even when he's playing with distorted guitars or using a DJ, Steve is always what country music should be.  And often, he is one hundred and eighty degrees opposite of what it actually is at the time.  That's because country hasn't been country for about forty-five years.  And so, Steve Earle has never really been a "country" artist; he's just happened to write some songs that appeal to "country" fans.

When you add all of this up, something becomes clear - Steve Earle (along with The Byrds and R.E.M.) was seminal in the formation of what is now known as insurgent country.  Lots of acts get heaped into the genre nowadays - if you've got a twang and you're not on CMT, you're insurgent because now it has become a cool thing unto itself.  Basically, it's country for people who liked country when country was too cool for anybody and pretending it wasn't - or the opposite of whatever crap it was that Barbara Mandrell said.

Just listen to The Week of Living Dangerously and you'll see what I mean.  It's totally country, but the protagonist is way to much of an ass for the song to have any mainstream traction.  He's part of the undesirable element - a demographic Earle has always courted, since he happens to be one himself. 

Like I said, one can never overstate the importance of Steve Earle.

So, is it an album?  Yes.  It's angry and it's poppy and there is a laser-precise thought process behind it.

Up next, "All the Girls in the World Beware!" by Grand Funk Railroad.

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