Bob Dylan, Steve Earle and The Rising Son

JTEarleTwo old guys and a kid. Hey…that’s what I probably should have named this article. But I’ve been reading up on how to build your online audience and it seems if you actually use names of famous people in the title you get more page views. So let’s give it a whirl….my Weekly Broadside column has been in the doldrums of late anyway, with only several hundred pairs of eyes each week. Could be I’ve just lost my edge, or my words are no longer as insightful, amusing, or interesting as once upon a time. And if this doesn’t pan out, maybe next week I’ll try to pair Gram Parsons with Bruce Jenner. At the very least I’m sure I’ll be trending, whatever the hell that means.

Dylan…oh how I love this new album. Admittedly early on I fell into the hole of pre-release hype that got it all wrong. They said it was a tribute to Sinatra. It ain’t. They paired it with what Rod Stewart, Linda Rondstadt and Molly Ringwald have done before…this Great American Songbook redux. It ain’t. And they said that Dylan’s voice is shot and this is merely some sort of joke, like his Christmas album. It ain’t.

There’s already too many reviews on Shadows In The Night, so you don’t need another one. But I’d like to throw out something new that I’ve yet to read, and that’s when I play these songs it reminds me of strong coffee from a Jersey diner, a bowl of high fiber cereal and a couple of tangerines. If you didn’t know where these songs came from, and most of you probably don’t, they could be his own. And if it was just served up simply as a new Dylan album, we’d be saying it’s the best thing he’s done since Blood On The Tracks. Because it’s really that good.

Citrus fruit aside, although the acidity often causes some folks a problem, both coffee and high fiber takes some time getting used to. As does sushi and refried beans I suppose. If you’re expecting Blonde on Blonde or thinking he’s going to sound like he does when he’s on his never ending tour where he deconstructs everything sounding like ‘Captain Beefheart meets Tom Waits’, you’ll be surprised, delighted or just pissed off. Because like the old Beach Boy’s promo campaign of the seventies that announced that “Brian is Back”…which he wasn’t… this time somebody got it right. Bob is back with a great folk music album.

Steve Earle…there is nobody else who has made music that I’ve loved and longed to hear more then him. He is my touchstone, occasional spiritual guide and my favorite performer and songwriter. I dig that he’s a survivor and an inspiration to many who’ve stumbled, fallen and picked themselves up. And like the imperfect hero he is, I’ve seen him when he’s right on the money and completely off the mark.

I’m about five days into listening to his newest album Terraplane. Like the Dylan release, people are going to love it or feel disappointed. While each artist has decided to dip back into time, while one has reinvented and produced something special, I’m not overly enchanted by this reworking of the blues that Earle recorded with the Mastersons. There are some really great songs, and some really annoying ones.

Now I remember that I once wrote that ‘there’s too much good stuff to write about…no need to dwell on the not so good’. And a writer…or music critic…replied that it was his responsibility to write honestly from his heart, and perhaps I didn’t understand the nature of critcism. He was right, I don’t. But I’m not so stuck within my own self-imposed rules to admit I don’t like this Terraplane (but the cover is groovy), and besides, Steve Earle is going survive my two cents just fine. The better news for his fans is that he’s got a memoir coming out this year, and a new country release.

Since we’re talkin’ blues, that box set released this year on Jack White’s label that features old 78s from Paramount Records out of Wisconsin won a Grammy award for best liner notes. Here’s something I think you might like even better than if I post one of Earle’s new tracks. Hell, he might like it better too.

Justin Townes Earle…the rising son. The third album playing on my digital jukebox this past week or two has been Absent Fathers, the second this year that follows Single Mothers. A few years ago I thought Justin might not make it. Not as a musician, because he’s exceptional at that; but as a walking, talking, functioning adult who could overcome addiction and immaturity. He is probably the first person on Facebook I de-liked because I couldn’t stand to witness his self destruction. But somehow, maybe like his dad or despite of him, he’s become to me of late the more interesting of the two Earles.

While the voice does not yet carry the physical weight and depth of dad, his songwriting and playing style has developed at a fast pace to a point where I frankly would prefer spending the night seeing him onstage than hearing “Copperhead Road” one more time. Sorry, for I’m sure I have just sinned, but at least his dad should be proud of his boy’s achievments and growth. I’m sure his mom is.

Two old guys and a kid. This time around I’ll take just one of each.