Live Reviews | 2011
02 November 2011
For someone whose powerful and sometimes provocative/political lyrics scrupulously underpin his whole repertoire, plus his entry into the world of novel writing and acting, it was puzzling that Steve Earle’s vocals were sometimes hampered and, at least once, totally lost by what seemed to be (I’m no expert, I add) a dodgy mic. Maybe it was something to do with beard interference.
Luckily, it didn’t detract from the three-hour, less intermission, show – and how could do it? Put simply, Earle is just great, endlessly enjoyable, rarely bettered in this musical genre. He is warmly at ease with his crowd and that works both ways. This was a finely-balanced, mellow-ish gig with loads to please all fans as he can readily mix his standards with the latest songs, keeping faith with long-standing buyers of his records and new ones quickly captivated by thoughtful lyrics, strong melodies and top-class musicianship.
Let’s face it. The three-in-a-row joys of 'My Old Friend The Blues' plus 'Someday' and 'Guitar Town' towards the end of the first set are incomparably brilliant examples of Earle’s consummate song-writing talents. They never lose their ability to make you appreciate them time and again. On their glorious, well-worn heels came singing duties with one of The Duchesses on-stage this time with The Dukes, the gorgeous Alison Moorer, aka Mrs Earle. 'Days Aren’t Long Enough' from Washington Square Serenade was a private duet when we were allowed to respectfully eavesdrop and then she grabbed a solo spotlight big-style for a riveting version of Sam Cooke’s 'A Change is Gonna Come'.
'Waiting for the Sky To Fall', 'The Gulf of Mexico' and the breezy romp of 'Little Emperor' from this year’s I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive CD release kick started the show that, generally, was slightly more subdued than we’ve had previously at Barrowland, his natural Glasgow home from home, and where the sound is always superior. His new songs register in such a way I reckon they could well become the standards for years to come.
On the troubling drama and familiarity of 'Taney Town' from 1997’s El Corazon – “Well there was four of them and I can't fight/But I got my old Randall knife/I cut that boy and I never did look back” – and the call-to-arms that is The Revolution Starts Now, the band cranked out the meaty, rock/roots/blues concoction that the man has mastered and fashioned into a sound all of his own.
With second Duchess, Eleanor Whitmore of The Mastersons on fiddle – Chris Masterson was on lead guitar duty – Earle only strapped on an electric guitar twice in the whole show. So while the whole approach may have been less hard edged the outcome and overall vibe was in no way featureless. The fiddling, and Moorer’s accordion, gave an added lilt to 'Galway Girl' and 'The Gulf Of Mexico' as well as a welcome airing for Copperhead Road’s 'Johnny Come Lately'.
Encouraging everyone to support trades unions, as always, 'The Mountain' was emotional with Earle’s heartfelt lyrics detailing bitter-sweet memories: “There's a chill in the air only miners can feel/There're ghosts in the tunnels that the company sealed.” With 'Hillbilly Highway' and Dylan’s 'It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry' as the encore closer leaving an Earle gig is always a bit of a wrench. You think back to previous gigs, solo or with his band, and never do you come away other than satisfied – and gratified that you get a masterclass each time.