Bucky Baxter - steel and acoustic guitars, mandolin; Steve Earle - vocals, acoustic guitar; Reno Kling - bass; Mike McAdam - guitar; Ken Moore - organ, piano; Harry Stinson - drums
YEE-HAW!! Too rock 'n' roll for Nashville, too country for most rock radio, but not quite swift enough to stay out of jail, Steve Earle defies easy categorization in almost every way. He's a Virginia-born, Texas-bred good ole boy notorious for his radical politics (including strong opposition to the death penalty); a high school drop-out who's written books and plays; and a scary, formerly drug-addled hillbilly that ROCKS!
Earle came up at a time when some of the most talented songwriters in country music were being marginalized for their bohemian lifestyles and refusal to conform to the strict parameters enforced by country labels and producers. Biting at the ankles of singers like Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt in Nashville, Earle got kicked around for more than ten years, writing songs for other performers before finally getting his solo debut released in 1986. A literate and mature record, Guitar Townwas critically acclaimed and the first in a series of chart successes; but Earle was plagued throughout his early career by label mismanagement, as well as the looming specter of his addictions and a long trail of angry ex-wives. Ultimately, it would take a court-ordered stint in rehab to set things right and put the man back on track to make what are arguably his best records ever.
This set, taken from a New York appearance in support of Guitar Town, reveals an already well-seasoned band kicking up dust and crashing through a rollicking set of rockabilly stompers and tragic tearjerkers. Earle proves equally suited to both, his reedy drawl delivering deep blue-collar pathos. They even dig into a Crazy Horse-like rendition of "State Trooper," from Bruce Springsteen's spare, home-spun classic Nebraska, a cover that would take on added significance for Earle when a Highway Patrol run-in 8 years later changed his life.
Steve Earle is one of those rare talents so powerful that his music still manages to outshine the utter turmoil his personal life creates. This is one of America's great songwriters at the beginning of an often brilliant and always fascinating career.