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Steve Earle's "Live In Nashville 1995"

shut up and die like a folk singer

shut up and die like a folk singer

So close.

In March 1996, Steve Earle reached the height of his career. Slow Train was out, I Feel Alright would drop in May, he was out of jail a couple of years and he was part gunslinging Guitar Town and part lefty Van Townes folkie and part 60s both Jagger and Richards rock star and Tramps that year he had the whole lot going for him. It is as if he’d taken Shut Up And Die Like An Aviator and poured Nat Hentoff all over it.

But this live album is a year earlier 1995, and it doesn’t rock hard enough. Pushing Slow Train, a great album no doubt, and with Emmylou Harris adding her voice here and there, it is a country folk snoozer. Steve was getting his bearing and the album went too far in the folk tradition. 53 minutes of occasionally hitting it out of the yard, “Sometimes She Forgets” is a step too slow and “The Devil’s Right Hand” has zero tension, “I’m Looking Through You” has no snap to it, and “Copperhead Road” is a disaster.

I am not talking voice here, Earle sounds like Earle, I am talking tempo, it slows to a crawl, it pours itself like molasses, it lacks all edge, it is like earle is strangling himself. This isn’t a blanket condemnation, the three song with Harris are all magnificent oil and water, sour and sweet, scratch and soothe, especially “Goodbye” – alone it  is worth the price of admission.

But too often, the song fails you, it doesn’t move like a concert, it doesn’t build, and it  is both too long and not long enough; shut up and fall asleep like an aviator.

I’ve had at Earle quite often over the years but this was nearing a golden age from him, say 1996 – 1999, yet just before he remembered how to be a classic rocker who forgot how to be a country star or a classic rocker and now he has released an album to remind us.

Grade: B-

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