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CD Reviews:  Steve Earle: Jerusalem

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It's been more than a year now, and slowly but surely the American songwriting vigilantes are starting to publish their respective musical rebuttals to the awful events of 9-11-01. From Alan Jackson to Bruce Springsteen, and Bon Jovi to the latest patriotic twang rock project from outlaw Steve Earle, we are beginning to get a steady flurry of "how I see it" tributes.

For his part, Steve Earle offers the new Jerusalem, an aptly titled album of political rants and authority-questioning stands. Earle is hardly new to this scene, mind you. In fact, he has often reveled in the role of a human rights troubadour, Nashville's anti-establishment cowboy. He's previously taken on such topics as the plight of the Native American Indians, abortion and the death penalty, so it comes as little surprise that here Earle chooses to tackle corporate corruption on Wall Street, the Taliban and HMOs. The controversy abounds, however, with a sobering ballad called "John Walker's Blues," a first-person account of the life and path of John Walker Lind. The story of an all-American boy is told, "raised on MTV" and "looking for a light out of the dim." Ultimately, Lind would follow "the first thing I heard that made sense…the word of Mohammed." The tale ends with Earle not necessarily defending so much as narrating Lind's journey: "Now they're dragging me back with my head in a sack to the land of the infidel."

Much of the new record is not nearly as dismal. "Amerika V. 6.0 (The Best We Can Do)" is a windows-down rocker that pirates a steel-guitar riff from the Stones' "Street Fighting Man." The simple acoustic melody that is "The Kind" recalls much of Earle's mid-1990s work, while the poppy organ ditty "What's a Simple Man to Do?" follows the mold of 2000's "Transcendental Blues." The title is not the only thing that "Go Amanda" has in common with Little Feat's "Oh Atlanta" -- it's a musical dead ringer! Earle is usually good for at least one duet with a notable female artist per album and, with Emmylou Harris' inclusion on "I Remember You," he manages to stick with that recipe. 

"Shadowland" is a galloping electric number that represents Jerusalem's most commercial moment. But buying a Steve Earle record in search of radio hits has never paid big dividends. While his themes and opinions are frequently stirring and controversial, Earle's folk rock integrity is never shaken and his songs have a way of becoming old friends.

~Red Rocker


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