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Steve Earle

Transcendental Blues – 2000 (E-Squared/Artemis)

Reviewed by Brian Baker

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CDs by Steve Earle

Steve Earle's long and storied career is defined by a determined and single-minded pursuit of excellence and a complete refusal to recognize the difference between rock and country and divided by a stint in the joint for drug possession.

The two halves of his career are marked by the same passsionate drive - the first half fueled by an arrogant belligerence and the second half by a clear-eyed confidence. Earle's post-jail recordings have represented a wild pastiche of styles, from the transitional "I Feel Alright" to the acoustically beautiful "Train A Comin'" to his amazing bluegrass collaboration with the McCourys on "The Mountain" to the magnificent "El Corazon." Earle's latest is more nose-thumbing at the country establishment that has long divorced itself from his eclecticism. The album offers a Celtic undertone recalling his work with The Pogues on Copperhead Road ("The Galway Girl," "Steve's Last Ramble," "Another Town") as well as a trippy Beatlesque/Byrdsy psychedelia ("The Boy Who Never Cried," "Everyone's in Love with You," the title track), and a touch of his recent bluegrass fascination ("Until the Day I Die") and only the merest whispers of the rootsy country that has been Earle's trademark since his debut nearly 20 years ago ("When I Fall" with his sister Stacey, "I Don't Want to Lose You Yet").

This is a wonderfully subversive album, which seems to be the only kind of album Earle knows how to make these days. He has long proven that he can bat from either side of the musical plate, and with this latest entry, Earle has effectively smashed any vestige of a pigeonhole that was created for or because of him.