Transcendental Blues

Steve Earle

E-Squared Records, 2000

REVIEW BY: George Agnos


Steve Earle has arguably come out with the finest body of work in the alt-country genre ever since making a comeback to the music scene. His biography, so far, plays like a movie: He was a rising star in the country music world until he got caught up in the seedy side of the show business lifestyle, hitting rock bottom as a convicted junkie. However, he has not only cleaned up his act, but his CD's since coming out of jail have had an urgency to them thanks to the experiences that he faced.

Earle's latest CD, Transcendental Blues, sort of ups the ante stylistically by adding musical pieces not normally found in alt-country. Now, adding a rock element to country music is nothing new, but on the opening track which is the title song, Earle mixes mid-60's Beatles-influenced psychedelia and melds it with his patented country sound. The effect of Earle's country twang over a swirling psychedelic rhythm is definitely an ear opener.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

And if you didn't get the point, the second song, "Everyone's In Love With You" sounds even more Beatlesesque, complete with fade outs and fade ins and backward guitar and vocals. However, before you start calling this CD, Steve Earle's Lonely Hearts Club Band, the next two songs, "Another Town" and "I Can Wait" bring us back to more familiar Earle territory, the former being a country-rock stomper, the latter a plaintive ballad.

But don't get too comfortable yet. Earle has a few more curves to throw at the listener. The eerie "The Boy Who Never Cried" is a dirge that comes off sounding like an odd, old fable. Then there are "Steve's Last Ramble" and "Galway Girl", which are songs that Earle recorded in Dublin, Ireland. With the help of local musicians, these songs are complete with fiddles, accordions and banjos. They fit on this CD like a glove, since after all, country music was influenced by Irish traditional music. Nevertheless, I can't imagine Earle doing a jig.

The rest of the songs range from the traditional ("Until The Day I Die" is a bluegrass number that sounds like a leftover track from Earle's previous CD, which was homage to bluegrass.) to straight aheard rock ("All My Life" sounds as if it could have been lifted from a Mick Taylor era Rolling Stones album).

However, what I think are the two best songs on Transcendental Blues have nothing to do with stylistic departures. "Lonelier Than This" is a song of lost love that Earle sings with great conviction. Then, there's the closer, "Over Yonder (Jonathan's Song)", which thoughtfully depicts a convict's thoughts before being put to death. Think of this as a folk song companion piece to the film, "Dead Man Walking".

If there's a problem with Transcendental Blues, I think that a couple songs could have been left off to make this a more focused work. There have been debates over whether an artist should use the extra space that CD's provide over records to add more songs. This is an interesting topic because shorter CD's come off seeming like rip-offs and longer CD's come off sounding added. For this CD, I think leaving out "Wherever I Go" and "When I Fall", which are not bad songs but are a little weak compared to the rest, would improve this set. Think of it as addition by subtraction. However, this does not detract very much from Transcendental Blues, which continues Earle's streak of wonderful releases.

Rating: A-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


© 2001 George Agnos and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of E-Squared Records, and is used for informational purposes only.