“The Low Highway” by Steve Earle

On April 2nd, Steve Earle will add one more album to his already impressive collection. The Low Highway will be released by New West Records and was produced by Ray Kennedy and Earle himself. The album is a must-listen for any fan of country, rock, the blues, or anyone who appreciates the art of storytelling through music.

Earle first entered the country music scene with his 1986 debut, Guitar Town, which he wrote after moving from Texas to Nashville, Tennessee. In the twenty-seven years since, he has won multiple Grammys, collaborated with a remarkable list of artists, and released thirteen studio albums, including Copperhead Road, The Hard Way, and I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive. Earle’s talents include more than composing and performing: in May of 2012, he released his first novel, also titled I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive, which received high praise from reviewers.

The Low Highway opens with a song of the same name, a simple tune that features a guitar, a few string instruments, and Earle’s voice. He sings with a raspy growl that echoes with experience and emotion, like an old cowboy who has seen it all. His lyrics evoke images of the American landscape: “Travelin’ out on a low highway/three-thousand miles to the Frisco Bay/crossing rivers wild and lonesome plains/up the coast and down and back again.” He sings of houses on dead-end streets, lines of people outside restaurants, and broken factory windows. He contrasts the imagery of a desperate, decaying society with the beauty of the American landscape. It’s a poignant note on which to start the album, setting a tone of community pride mixed with personal reflection.

“Burnin’ it Down” is another slow track, a melancholy ode to Earle’s memories of his younger self. He romanticizes his middle-class past and at the same time wants to let it go. He sings, “Thinking ‘bout burnin’ it down/love ain’t never going to be the same in this town.” Earle is almost like a country version of Bruce Springsteen. He is an American everyman. He has a true love of honest hard work and what it can do for you, but he’s also noticed some flaws in the system that occasionally sadden his rock-n-roll attitude.

That rock attitude certainly has a presence on the album. “Calico Country” features an electric guitar solo and catchy hook. It is likely to be a crowd favorite during Earle’s next tour. The song highlights Earle’s skill in storytelling. He paints a picture of some run-down town and broken but hardy family, with lines like “Momma never told me why Daddy didn’t live with us” and “My little brother Bobby stole a Coca Cola Truck/drove it through the cemetery/Bobby doesn’t give a fuck.” There may be some element of truth behind Earle’s description of working class life in the south, but here Earle sounds like he’s just having a good time. “21st Century Blues” is another opportunity for Earle to rock out. There is some commentary about American entitlement versus economic reality, but there are also a good deal of tongue-in-cheek lyrics. “Where the hell is my flying car?” Earle sings, “Ain’t nothing like a tele-transporter so far.”

Other notable songs off The Low Highway include “Pocket Full of Rain” and “After Mardi Gras,” which both have a strong blues influence. “Warren Hellman’s Banjo” is an impressive blue-grass track that gives Earle a chance to show off his versatility, talent, and ability to make any genre accessible to his listener.

Despite Earle’s rough-around-the-edges persona, his music and lyrics are incredibly moving. Even if you didn’t grow up in the south with a pickup truck, The Low Highway will take you to Earle’s world and make you want to explore.

By Mary Kennedy

If you liked this, check out:
“My Rocks Are Dreams” by Psychic Friend
“When It Was Now” by Atlas Genius

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