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Steve Earle

The Warner Bros. Years (Warner Bros.)

Reviewed by Jim Caligiuri, Fri., Aug. 16, 2013

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Steve Earle

The Warner Bros. Years (Warner Bros.)

The early Nineties were dark and tumultuous for Steve Earle. His "vacation in the ghetto," as he's referred to it, resulted in an arrest for heroin possession in 1993 and a subsequent 45-day stint in drug rehab. The 4-CD/1-DVD Warner Bros. Years contains the three LPs the Schertz-reared songwriter made in quick succession following his release: Train a Comin', I Feel Alright, and El Corazón. The pot gets sweetened here with a live recording from late in 1995 at the Polk Theater, his first Nashville appearance after getting out of rehab. There's also a video, "To Hell and Back," originally broadcast on MTV, which preserves an electric show with the Dukes at Tennessee's Cold Creek Correctional Facility from 1996, one of the conditions of his probation. Some of Earle's strongest songwriting came out of this period. "Don't let anyone tell you that there's any correlation between being creative and being fucked up," he says in an interview in the liner notes. "Goodbye," "Tom Ames' Prayer," "Ft. Worth Blues," and "You're Still Standin' There" hit the head and the heart the same as the day we first heard them. Fans probably own the studio albums and have worn out a copy or two, but the Polk Theater recording, an acoustic affair with Peter Rowan and Norman Blake in the band and guest appearances by Emmylou Harris and Bill Monroe, proves Earle was back on the road to being the hardcore troubadour he was meant to be.

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