Steve Earle & The Dukes (& Duchesses) – The Low Highway
I collect Airmiles. I know you don’t care, but I’m gonna tell you anyway. Of course, I hate having an extra card in my wallet, trying to collect points in a system that makes it impossible to save up for anything really good (unless you’re in a tax bracket I can’t even see from where I’m sitting). However, I suffer it because every couple of months, usually with points procurred from buying gas for the car, and Drunk Review wine at the weekends, I cash in my points and get a free CD. Yes! This makes me inordinately happy and totally justifies the hassle.
This Steve Earle CD got rave reviews on peoples’ End Of 2013 Best-Of list over on Mike’s site. I like Steve Earle’s music, though I wouldn’t consider myself an expert. The only other Earle I currently own is an Essential hits-type disc, but I did hear most of his records years ago through the Saskatoon public library, and I remember liking them then… so, I ordered this with my points just to check it out. Boy, am I ever glad I did…
The Low Highway is pure Earle Americana. Calico County is a great, bluesy tune but the verse sounds so much like a (slightly) slowed-down Wild Wild West by Escape Club, which in turn stole from Elvis Costello’s Pump It Up… look, this is a cool tune, but I can’t shake hearing the other tunes in my head. Burnin’ It Down is a pretty tune, easy to drift off meditatively listening to it…
That All You Got? brings back the bluesy boogie, with a bit of cajun spice mixed in. Love the instrumental bit in the middle. You know, every song here, so far, seems to find a groove early on and then just stick to it relentlessly. It’s not a bad thing, most bands would be lucky to have songs this strong. It’s just something I noticed. Love’s Gonna Blow My Way is a sweet little tune that jams along almost jazzily. Is that even a word, jazzily? Dictionary.com says yes! It’s an adverb of jazzy. Cool. Good tune, anyway. I like it best here so far, maybe.
After Mardi Gras stomps along, vocals front and center. The music in the background almost seems like an afterthought, on first listen. I played it again and then I heard the tune more, all the tricky little chord changes. Put the two together and it works. Just don’t dismiss it on first go, as I almost did. It totally works if you give it another go! I promise! Pocket Full Of Rain is a jaunty tune anchored by a hammered low-end piano note. I don’t know why I can hear this being a TV show theme song, but I totally can. I like it.
Invisible is a melancholy acoustic number with deliberately twangy, rough vocals. Like the rest of the album, it just clings to the groove and carries on. This’d be a great on for a late-night drive on an empty highway. Warren Hellman’s Banjo starts out with just Earle’s vocals and banjo. The drums and fiddle come in later. Could be a sea chanty or a Celtic reel or something. Definitely near the sea, anyway, to my ear.
Down The Road Pt II is pure country, mandolin and all. Great beat, definitely a toe-tappin’ tune. The fiddle stands out to my ear, here. 21st Century Blues is an uplifting tune with not-so-uplifting lyrics. I guess the new century ain’t all Mr. Earle wants it to be. Ah well, he still holds out hope for us all. I appreciate that. And lastly is Remember Me, a slow dancer for when last call was half an hour ago and they’re putting chairs up on the tables. I really liked this track. Perfect ending to a great record.
What? A great record? After some of what I said? Yes. A great record. No one else could make this record, and we should all thank Mr. Earle and the Dukes and Duchesses for it. I think the main reason I call it great is because, for all its polish and professionalism, it still just sounds like a jam session. Loose, free, fun. Solid tunes that lock into themselves and just barrel along. Really cool. There’s something timeless here, on most of the songs. It’s gonna be just as good ten, twenty, thirty years from now as it is right now, I guarantee it.