Steve Earle leaves little doubt from the opening strains of "Feel Alright" that he is back with a vengeance when he declares "Lock me up and throw away the key/Or just find a place to hide away/Hope that I'll just go away." Despite his well-publicized demons, Earle thankfully won't go away. On his second comeback disc after last year's sterling acoustic based, softer "The Train's A Comin'," Earle delivers a tough, but taut disc filled with his rocking country sound that first propelled him. Earle sings with a sense of urgency throughout, a voice a bit weathered, but on target. Add a dose of blues ("CCKMP," a lament of an addict, and "Poor Boy"), Dylan ("Now She's Gone) and changed tempos, and listeners are rewarded with one of Earle's best ever.
The playing is tight, particularly from guitarists and co-producers Richard Bennett and Ray Kennedy. Earle's harmonica and back-up vocals ("Valentine's Day") are a plus. There just isn't a weak cut among the bakers dozen. Don't expect too many story songs. Instead, there are tales of love, pain and hurt. And all well-written, often from the underdog's perspective, in the usual Earle style. Simple, but getting the point across. The title of one song perhaps describe the overall feel and attitude best, "The Unrepentant." This isn't feel good country music. Let's hope Earle continues to feel all right.