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Earle maintains his value

The Troubadour, West Hollywood, Cal., August 12, 2017

Reviewed by Dan MacIntosh

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Steve Earle is always worth seeing live. He's accumulated such a treasure trove of stellar songs over the years, in fact, that he could easily rely on past accomplishments - as so many others do. However, his latest album, "So You Wannabe an Outlaw," is easily one of his best. Therefore, his choice to perform a goodly chunk of this latest wasn't any disappointment to anybody.

Earle opened with the album's title cut, which throws out a stern warning to any wannabe outlaws. Bottom line: It's not worth it. He followed this up with "The Firebreak Line" and "Walkin' in LA," both appropriate for this Southern California audience. The first because we've seen more than our share of brushfire disasters in the region, and the second because - and it's really sadly true - you're sometimes cruelly judged out here by the price of the car you drive.

Some of the show's best moments were Earle's song introductions. Earle is ever-quotable, never afraid to speak his mind - whether the hearer likes his thoughts or not. He previewed "Goodbye Michelangelo" by fondly recalling its subject, his late friend Guy Clark. Better still, though, was the closing "The Girl on the Mountain," which acted as a kind of benediction. Earle admitted to being a diehard romantic. He has always believed there was someone out there for everyone, even though his long list of failed marriages has caused him much self-doubt.

Nevertheless, he was also able to joke that being single means he can almost always get a single ticket to any event. He wound up his remarks by encouraging audience members to hold on tight to their dreams. Some consider Earle to be a crusty character. However, if they'd heard the warmth in these remarks, perhaps they'd think differently of him. It was sincerely touching.

Along with newer material, Earle sang "Guitar Town" and "Copperhead Road" because they're two of his most popular songs. It helps, though, that they're also fine examples of what he does so well as a songwriter. The former exploring the economics of becoming an outlaw, while the latter explores the prizes and pitfalls of making it in Nashville. He performed "Jerusalem," which includes the appropriate to our times line, "But I don't remember learnin' how to hate in Sunday school." Speaking of appropriate, Earle also performed "Taneytown" and "Mississippi, It's Time," which each directly address racial issues.

Earle was accompanied by a band that also included a steel guitar player. Additionally, The Mastersons, husband and wife duo Chris Masterson and Eleanor Whitmore, joined in with the band after opening the concert with a beautifully performed folk-country set. Chris acted as the group's lead guitarist, while Eleanor added a lot of fiddle, a little piano and fulfilled the role of Earle's duet partner on a few songs.

Somehow beating the odds, Earle is just as exciting, creative and relevant now as he was way back when "Guitar Town" introduced this troubadour to the mainstream country audience. This was Earle's second night at the historic Troubadour, which is a venue choice that makes sense because he's an artist that belongs right up there with all the other musical greats that have graced this stage.