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Reviewed by Jim Caligiuri, December 2, 2005, Music

Steve Earle: Fearless Heart, Outlaw Poet

by David McGee

Backbeat, 330 pp., $17.95 (paper)

2004's Hardcore Troubadour by Lauren St. John remains the definitive biography of Steve Earle, making the need for this document questionable. Nevertheless, Fearless Heart distinguishes itself by being less a detailed look at the Texan troubadour's life and more a behind-the-scenes account of the making of his albums. Separating Earle's roller-coaster life from his music is nearly impossible, so the multiple marriages, crazed drug use, and steadfast rebelliousness are touched upon but never overemphasized. What's left are talks with contemporaries like Rodney Crowell and Rosanne Cash, who offer enlightened insight into Earle's first days in Nashville and his influence after his initial success. McGee precedes discussions with producers Tony Brown and Richard Bennett with some of their own personal histories; all the more fascinating because Brown worked with Elvis Presley and Bennett with Neil Diamond. Peter Rowan reveals some of the drama associated with Earle's comeback album, Train a Comin', and Ronnie McCoury exposes his side of the truth on why the Del McCoury Band pulled out of The Mountain tour. What's missing is Earle's perspective. According to McGee, the songwriter at first agreed to cooperate with the project, then quit responding to interview requests. Unfortunately, this led to a major player like Ray Kennedy, who produced albums with Earle as the Twang Trust, having minor input and the current band of Dukes being nowhere to be found. Although incomplete, McGee has unearthed some valuable information, combined with a superb discography and definitive session information.

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