In the Instagram era where people use apps to turn digital snapshots into sepia-toned portraits, Steve Earle's 16th studio release finds its place with an old-school sound. It's a Polaroid of rural country, blues and bluegrass frozen in time. But instead of outdated, it plays on the nostalgia of its modern audience.
Named for the 1930s Hudson muscle car model, "Terraplane," the cover is a cacophony of vintage graphics hinting to the fun times that lie beneath. Many of the songs tell stories, contributing to the album's autobiographical feel. The finale, "King of the Blues," declares "Before I drew my second breath, Mama knew she'd just given birth to the king of blues."
Whether Earle sings this as himself or a character is unknown - he certainly could be considered at least a duke of blues - but considering his career started in 1974, "Go Go Boots Are Back" most likely acts as a personal reminiscence rather than creative monologue.
"Baby Baby Baby (Baby)" sets the tone for the rawness of the rest of the album. The standout track, however, is "My Baby's Just As Mean As Me," a duet with Eleanore Whitmore of alt.-country duet The Mastersons. It's a Prairie Home Companion tune with an edge - again drawing on the style of old with the attitude of today.
Unfortunately, some tracks sound too similar and risk running into each other, just as a slideshow of sepia-toned landscapes can seem monotonous. With similar tempos and arrangements, anyone not paying attention close enough is liable to think "Ain't Nobody's Daddy Now" and "Better Off Alone" are the same song.
Luckily, producer R.S. Field split similar-sounding songs with slower ballads, An early oasis between the driving tempos of the songs, "The Tennessee Kid" is an early vintage spoken-story song about the a young man's interactions with the devil - typical southern fare that adds to the throwback feel.
In some ways, "Terraplane" celebrates the root-style music that inspired years of country and blues to come. In others, it's proof that there's still room for the classics - and Earle is the one to fill that space.