Steve Earle has covered much ground during an almost 30-year recording career and very little of it covered lightly, but this may be his first record that could genuinely be considered “fun”. That is not to say that any of the grizzled alt-country veteran’s impressive back catalogue has been hard on the ears. But the subject matter has carried some serious heft. Be it Bush’s America – Marks I and II – farmers’ rights, gun laws, the Civil War. It’s been great, but it has been light on laughs.
Now, perhaps slightly unusually for the man who breathed new life into country music with big rock guitars and honky-tonk riffing, Earle has decided to make a filthy, blues album. And filthy is unquestionably the right word because first and foremost in Earle’s mind appears to be sex. Never has he sounded so perverse or downright dirty. The opener ‘Baby Baby Baby (Baby)’ is hilarious, while ‘Go Go Boots Are Back’ finds him leering like a middle-aged man in a college bar. It is nonsensical, but, and here’s that word again, “fun”.
Of course it gets heavy in places. ‘The Tennessee Kid’ brings Earle’s snarling intensity firmly into the spotlight. There are greasy licks aplenty during ‘The Usual Time’ and ‘Ain’t Nobody’s Daddy Now’, countered by the heart-spilling ‘Better Off Alone’. The latter song gives some insight into Earle’s emotions as he goes through his seventh divorce, but the mood feels relatively carefree and lively for an album cast at a time of personal heartache.
It’s the sound of Earle just revving up with his buddies and having a good time, putting any personal turmoil on the sidelines while the latest incarnation of The Dukes relish the chance to rip it up roadhouse style. You could argue this is hardly an essential addition to Earle’s discography, after all he has always been at his most effective when blending styles rather than adhering to one at a time, but it is refreshing to see a different side to such an established songwriter. Guitar Town and Copperhead Road are always likely to go down as the high water mark in Earle’s remarkable career, but Terraplane makes a very welcome addition all the same.
Words: Andrew Gwilym