Live: Steve Earle, Houston
Steve Earle is one of America’s most important songwriters, and his new album I’ll Never Get Out Of This World Alive is a low-key but polished set that exhibits the singer’s storytelling strengths. Earle kicked off a short promotional tour for the CD on Tuesday (May 3) in Houston, with a rousing in-store performance at Cactus Music.
He picked up one of his stringed instruments and explained, “This is a bouzouki … but you don’t call it that when you’re going through airport security.” He then plucked the intro to “Waitin’ On The Sky,” which kicks off the new album. Earle followed that one with the excellent “The Gulf of Mexico,” his take on last year’s oil spill done up like an old-time sea chanty. Next up was an oldie, “The Mountain,” the coal-mining cousin to “Gulf of Mexico.”
Before playing his new showcase love song, “Every Part Of Me,” Earle explained it’s a “chick song, to keep my audience from continuously getting uglier and hairier, like me.” Still holding his brown Martin guitar, Earle absent-mindedly muttered, almost to himself, “Forgot where I am right now.” He meant Houston, the former and now spiritual home of his mentor Townes Van Zandt – then Earle launched into a brilliant “Pancho and Lefty,” one of Van Zandt’s most famous songs.
After that great moment came another: mentioning that his new novel is also titled I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive, Earle explained that both of his new projects share a title because they’re about the same things. And they are both inspired by Hank Williams’ song with that title – which isn’t on the new album. “We put it out instead as a single for Record Store Day,” Earle said. “That’s the kind of stuff you have to do today … we used to make records for girls, now we make records for nerds.” His version of Hank’s “I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive” makes me think that an album of all-Hank covers from Steve Earle would be quite welcome.
Switching to mandolin, Earle plucked the Bush kiss-off “Little Emperor” from the new CD, then some fancy picking segued into a welcome “Galway Girl.” Casting a sly grin to his guitar tech, Earle then strummed out the familiar chords to “Copperhead Road” and rolled into that classic, complete with shouts and boot stomps to accent the beat. He caught his breath with a long preamble about working as an actor on HBO’s series “Treme” then capped off the 10-song set with a rousing version of his post-Katrina New Orleans ode “This City.”
I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive is not the best Steve Earle album you can buy, but it’s a welcome return to form for this great singer/songwriter. He promised he’ll be out on tour this summer with a band including Houston guitarist Chris Masterson (Son Volt) and Earle’s wife Allison Moorer, which is all the more reason to catch him if you have a chance.
NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert, with “Waitin’ On The Sky,” “Every Part Of Me” and “This City”