Reviewed by Dan Oko, Fri., Oct. 11, 2002
Steve EarleJerusalem (Artemis) To many of his fans, Steve Earle is the "hillbilly Bruce Springsteen." Whereas with Boss' The Rising set out to console the victims of 9/11 (and by extension the nation), on Jerusalem, Earle keeps his distance from the big tent. Earle has already tangled with the mainstream American establishment over a new song, "John Walker Blues." That tune, a spiritual and thematic anchor for Jerusalem, relies on the songwriter's considerable skills to plumb the question of what turned John Walker Lindh into a Taliban soldier. If this sentiment offends you politically, aesthetically, or otherwise, you'll want to give Earle wide berth. The rest of the proceedings alternate between trenchant messages concerning the fall of the American dream ("Conspiracy Theory," "What's a Simple Man to Do") and an obvious longing for simpler times ("The Kind," "Go Amanda," the latter co-written by Sheryl Crow). Meanwhile, Emmylou Harris turns up for the lonely break-up of "I Remember You." Unfortunately, for every song that pulls at the heartstrings or prompts a minor political epiphany, Earle has included muddled-headed efforts that don't pass muster. "Shadowland," for instance, sounds like a Guitar Town leftover, while the closing title track doesn't quiet split the difference between being pissed off and finding a silver lining. Just as Springsteen's The Rising arrived a little undercooked, Earle would have been wise to spend some more time in the studio. It's all well and good to worry about civil liberties and the root causes of terrorism, but if you're going off half-cocked all the time, few people will have the patience to listen to you.