Steve Earle beat the odds, and he knows it. “I was the ultimate functional heroin addict for a number of years,” he says, introducing himself to a MTV audience that might not be intimately familiar with his life story and ferocious brand of country-rock music. “I got clean because I got locked up. If that hadn’t happened, I would have died. I just made my first album straight this year.”
On June 25, 1996, as part of a court order, Steve Earle performed a live concert for prison inmates at Tennessee’s Cold Creek Correctional Facility where Earle was incarcerated in 1994. The concert entitled To Hell and Back aired on MTV on August 17, 1996. Steve reunited with his backing group the Dukes for the concert, and it was an incredible show.
Folsom Prison looms large in Johnny Cash’s legacy, providing the setting for perhaps his definitive song and the location for his definitive album, At Folsom Prison. The ideal blend of mythmaking and gritty reality, At Folsom Prison is the moment when Cash turned into the towering Man in Black, a haunted troubadour singing songs of crime, conflicted conscience, and jail.
~Stephen Thomas Erlewine (allmusic.com)
“There’s nothing ‘retro’ about this record,” Earle says. “I’m just acknowledging where I’m coming from.” So You Wannabe an Outlaw is the first recording he has made in Austin, TX. Earle has lived in New York City for the past decade. “Look, I’m always gonna be a Texan, no matter what I do,” he says. “And I’m always going to be somebody who learned their craft in Nashville. It’s who I am.”
For me this is Steve Earle´s best album since Transcendental Blues (June 6, 2000). Backed by his band The Dukes (guitarist Chris Masterson, fiddle player Eleanor Whitmore, bassist Kelly Looney, and new members drummer Brad Pemberton and pedal steel player Ricky Ray Jackson) & recorded at Arlyn Studios in Austin. Produced by Richard Bennett.
“I woke up this mornin’ and none of the news was good And death machines were rumblin’ ‘cross the ground where Jesus stood And the man on my TV told me that it had always been that way And there was nothin’ anyone could do or say
And I almost listened to him Yeah, I almost lost my mind Then I regained my senses again And looked into my heart to find
That I believe that one fine day all the children of Abraham Will lay down their swords forever in Jerusalem” – Steve Earle (Jerusalem)
Steve Earle released this “protest album” post 9/11, but contrary to widespread belief it is not a concept album about the tragic events on that date. Yes, there are some songs relating to it, but only three out of eleven (maybe four). There were som controversy when it came out, especially the song John Walker’s Blues were widely discussed and often slated in right wing media. It is not a song that takes sides, it is a song that tells us that an ordinary American kid fell in with the wrong crowd (in this case, the Taliban). Earle make us look at this boy, and he does not say that he is innocent, but he says that he should be treated like a human being despite his faults and despite his guilt. It is a fantastic song.
“…Earle has crafted a vision of America thrown into chaos, where the falling of the World Trade Center towers is just another symbol of a larger malaise which surrounds us. Before its release,Jerusalem already generated no small controversy over the song “John Walker’s Blues,” which tells the tale of “American Taliban” John Walker Lindh as seen through his own eyes. While “John Walker’s Blues” is no more an endorsement of Lindh’s actions than Bruce Springsteen’s “Nebraska” was a tribute to mass-murderer Charles Starkweather, even though it’s one of the album’s strongest songs, if anything, it doesn’t go quite far enough.”
– Mark Demming (allmusic.com)
Steve Earle made a “state of the nation” album, and he is confused and he doesn’t come up with the answers, but he asks the important questions!