Five songs into his solo acoustic performance, Steve Earle said “Do you all see I’m doing?” Tipped off by the early set placement of his two best known songs (“Guitar Town” and “Copperhead Road”) yours truly replied in the affirmative.
Currently in the process of writing a “memoir,” Earle was cleverly walking through his career chronologically playing one song from each of his 17 studio albums. Beginning with “The Devil’s Right Hand” from an unreleased debut for Epic Records (eventually issued as Early Tracks), he capped off the run by encoring with a new song from his next project: an upcoming collaboration with Shawn Colvin.
This concept night was the first in Earle’s four-show residency at the Nashville City Winery. (He was back the next night performing in the same format and returns two weeks later for another pair of shows.) A January residency at the other City Wineries (New York and Chicago) has become an annual event for Earle and thankfully now includes Music City.
Earle welcomed us to the evening by introducing his opener Elizabeth Cook. Steve expressed his pleasure in getting to handpick the support acts for these shows. (Kathy Mattea, John Doe and John Fulbright fill out the other Nashville nights.) Cook, a resident of East Nashville, then performed a casual 30-minute solo acoustic set of mostly new material. She livened things up at the end with her spunky “El Camino.”
Despite many long hard years, Steve Earle continues to be an engaging solo performer and an adept musical accompanist to his strong solid voice. As expected though, two-hours with Earle comes with the price of having to listen to what he has to say. While this included insightful looks about most of the records and his ups and downs along the way, we also heard much about his left-leaning ideals.
In this election year, we also got a good whiff of Earle’s views about a disappointing America. It was no surprise when he voiced his support for candidate Bernie Sanders as was his approval of President Obama’s recent gun-control executive order. Surprising to these ears however, was his displeasure with the Bill Clinton years, and Steve’s relating the current homeless crisis to Bill’s balanced budget slashing of mental health programs.
Chatter aside, the night was full of some brilliant music. It was a fun journey back through the last 30 years as I tried to mentally recall the Earle album sequence and guess what song Steve would choose from each. The statistician in me can’t resist pointing out that for seven of the 17 records he simply chose the title track. All in all, most choices were the ones that I expected with the possible exception of “Taneytown” from El Corazon.
After the new song in the #18 slot, Earle broke the pattern and pulled out his mandolin for “The Galway Girl,” For his closing number, he prefaced the upcoming election and sent us home with the politically somber “Christmas in Washington” after giving his longest political discourse of the evening.
Waiting to pick up my car at the valet stand, I overheard an older woman say “I liked him before he became so political.” Well, ma’am, you are talking about a very long time ago. And while he told us tonight he did not do an overtly political record until 2002’s Jerusalem, the undertones of his beliefs have always found their way into his songs.
Any way you look at it, Steve Earle is a man with some strong opinions that he presents intelligently and generally un-offensively. He also is one of America’s greatest living songwriters and an entertaining performer. And, as I have said before, while I don’t agree with everything he has to say, the entertainment and thoughtful insight he provides along the way make it all OK for me.
- The Devil’s Right Hand
- Guitar Town
- I Ain’t Ever Satisfied
- Copperhead Road
- Billy Austin
- Can’t Remember If We Said Goodbye
- I Feel Alright
- The Mountain
- Transcendental Blues
- The Revolution Starts Now
- Tennessee Blues
- Pancho and Lefty (Townes Van Zandt cover)
- God is God
- The Low Highway
- You’re the Best Lover That I Ever Had
- Tell Moses (new song)
- The Galway Girl
- Christmas in Washington
Steve Earle – Vocals, Acoustic Guitar and Mandolin