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Steve Earle goes his own (very political) way

The Paradise, Boston, March 15, 2005

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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Steve Earle has enjoyed a long career but fans at the sold-out show would not much known that.

Earle, fresh off winning his first Grammy last month, performed mainly very recent material for the sold-out crowd.

And the new material - Earle played a large chunk of "The Revolution Starts...Now" - held up quite well.

In fact, Earle started and ended the set with the musically powerful title track. The song deals with the idea of change being possible with the lines "Last night I had a dream/That the world had turned around/And all our hopes had come to be."

Earle's songs aptly reflect where he's coming from ("Christmas in Washington" where the crowd did a good job on singing the chorus with the line "Come back Woody Guthrie.") and his overwhelming concern about the direction of the U.S.

Just prior to the closing version, Earle sang a good version of The Beatles' "Revolution." "Rich Man's War" focused on fighting in Iraq.

It was quite fitting given Earle's decidedly left wing political stance. He made it quite clear that he opposed the war in Iraq and was concerned about the well being of his two sons, ages 17 and 22. He urged concert goers to protest the war effort.

He didn't save his polemics for the war either. "F the CC" complained about political conformity on the radio.

Earle could have been accused of being a bit too preachy, but he fortunately was no Billy Bragg as he who would have gone on far longer at the expense the music.

While a bit silly on disc, Earle's reggae-based "Condi Condi" about Secretary of State Condeleeza Rice, came off with the right sense of humor in a concert needing that type of breather.

Earle's voice started off a bit raspy and undermiked, a problem that improved over the course of the very generous 2:25 hour show. He was easily heard on the softer numbers, but when the band rocked more, which was often, it was harder to hear Earle's vocals.

Helping Earle, who continued to look quite good and very much slimmed down, on vocals was Allison Moorer, a pretty singer in more ways than one, who had her own opening half-hour set. Her voice was far sturdier than Earle's - she has a lot of vigor and emotion in her voice. Moorer tended to outdo Earle in the singing category on backing harmonies and duets.

Earle was backed by a very capable band starting with Will Rigby of dBs fame on drums. He set a very strong beat throughout, keeping the music moving. Eric Roscoe Ambel helped out on lead guitar as well, and Earle's occasional leads were fine, while his mandolin playing added a good change of musical dynamics.

The mandolin and acoustic guitar played by Earle gave more of a country effect to the proceedings, but this was more a night where Earle ventured into rock territory.

With all this said, it would have been nice if Earle had interspersed older songs - and played more of them - throughout the evening instead of almost ignoring them during the regular set ("Copperhead Road") and saving a few for the encore ("Someday" and "My Old Friend the Blues.") Doing so would have put the show into higher orbit.

On the other hand, at this stage in his long career, Earle shows he can deliver relevant and meaty material in his own way.