Thursday, July 16, 2009

Bullying the Jukebox Volume II Steve Earle – Train A Comin’

“Under the flag of a greenback dollar or a peso down Mexico way.”

A few weeks back I had the good fortune of catching Steve Earle live. He was backing his Townes Van Zandt cover album titled “Townes”. One of those situations that sort of fell into my lap at the last minute. The show was going to be solo acoustic and I doubted if Steve Earle would be able to carry a show all by himself. I wasn’t a big fan, casual at best, knew of his songs most folks know like Copperhead Road, Guitar Town, and some new stuff I heard like Jerusalem.

My expectations were far surpassed. Steve Earle is a hell of a performer, the show was great and it left me hungry to check out his records. My brother in law who went with suggested I check out Train a Comin’ and thanks to the often mentioned music case / collection my brother Brian made for me I gave it a go and it hasn’t left the player since (except to come inside the house so I could work on the opening part of Mercenary Song on guitar).

Looking back this was the second time Earle surprised me. The first time was on the great (my favorite as a matter of fact) soundtrack for the movie Dead Man Walking. I’m a Springsteen guy all the way and so it was an automatic to purchase a copy. The artists for this soundtrack included:

Johnny Cash
Tom Waits
Lyle Lovett
Suzanne Vega
Michelle Shocked
Eddie Vedder
Patti Smith
Mary Chapin Carpenter

And Steve Earle. I remember listening in complete wonder to the song Ellis Unit One. It was the best song on the soundtrack, a loaded soundtrack with great songs but no question Ellis Unit One was the standout. That seemed like a crazy notion at the time. After getting to know Train a Comin’ it doesn’t seem so surprising.

Train a Comin’ has the great dichotomy working that paralleled what I saw live. It is acoustic and relaxed AND KICK ASS. Now kick ass is an overused term, under the ownership of a different type of listernership you might say. When you hear the term kick ass in regards to music, bands like Skynard or Bon Jovi or Aerosmith come to mind. These bands have never by my definition kicked ass. My kick ass is Waylon Jennings, or Hank III, or Unknown Hinson.

And these are not acoustic affairs like Train a Comin. I think this is that special something that hardcore troubadour Earle fans love. Genuine kick ass; pure, deep, moving kick assification.

A perfect example of this is the song Tom Ames Prayer.

Here is a verse:

“You don’t owe me nothing and as far as I know Lord I don’t owe nothing to you.
I ain’t asking for a miracle, just a little bit a luck will do.
You know I ain’t ever prayed before but it always seemed to me
That praying is the same as begging and I don’t take no charity”

There’s a mouthful right there. Tom Ames Prayer is a classic, a song I couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard before.

Train A Comin’ is loaded with great players including Peter Rowan, Norman Blake, and Roy Huskey. Had I known about it, this one would have made a strong run at my Top Ten of the 90’s list.

So now when someone asks me about Steve Earle I’ll say.

“Steve Earle, man he’s great. Have you ever heard Train A Comin? That’s a masterpiece right there.”

As my playing and singing develop (so slowly…) I recorded myself doing a couple of songs off Train A Comin. I keep a video record to reference my progress (hopeful progress) whenever I get pissed and feel like I haven’t got anywhere. I put a couple up on youtube for the hell of it.

You can see that here but please don’t judge the album on it:

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