Tuesday, July 19, 2011

I Feel Alright by Steve Earle

Steve Earle is a singer/writer who came to prominence in the mainstream country market during the late 80s.  Since then, he has maintained a career with touring and album releases.

More can found about him here.

I Feel Alright is his sixth album.

If you don't think you've ever heard Steve Earle, chances are, you have.  His songs have been featured in many movie soundtracks.  As a matter of fact, three songs from I Feel Alright are in Talladega Nights.  His sound is twangy country-rock mixed with a solid sense of lyrical style.  Steve Earle is a Texas songwriter in the vein of his friend and hero Townes Van Zandt who writes fantastic tunes. 

Ealre's releases can be a varied grab bag ranging from acoustic singer songwriter to political statements.  I Feel Alright is certainly more commercially accessible as it does not require the listener to fall into Earle's left-leaning politics or extremes.  It's a collection of good country-rock where the sound puts the performance right in the room with the listener.  These songs are not only pretty good, but they sound good, too.

The album kicks off with the live-in-the-room sounding title track.  Earle is known for being pretty dour, but he states that he is "alright" despite the world around him.  Perhaps it's a sign of things to come, but this establishes the overall sound and mood of the entire record.

The tempo picks up with the third person narrative "Hard Core Troubador."  It's the tale of the roaming lifestyle of a...well...troubador.  It's a wolf in sheep's clothing with a catchy chorus and dancable beat.

After the big hook of the jangly guitars and harmonies of "More Than I Can Do", things slow down with the ballad "Hurtin' Me, Hurtin' You."  It's sounds like an update on the classic 50s/60s R&B sound.  You can almost hear Otis Redding doing this song.  Of course, this song is all about the huge guitars in the chorus.

Steve Earle has a gift for storytelling.  The first taste of this gift is in "Now She's Gone."  This is a tale of woman on the move and the broken hearts she leaves in her wake.

It's followed by the rockabilly beat of "Poor Boy."  This song could have easily been recorded at Sun Records by Elvis Presley. 

The ease of "Poor Boy" leads right into the heartbreak of "Valentine's Day."  An acoustic ballad with back up vocals by black gospel group The Fairfield Four.  The song is complete with a string break easily making it one of the prettiest songs on the record.  It's love song where love is all he's got to offer.

The guitars and drums return for the low twang of "The Unrepentent."  Earle sings that "someone's got to take the blame" with a dose of venom in his voice.  The sound of the lead guitar is just a howl, but you can almost smell the tubes in the amplifier smoking.

"CCKMP" expands country-raga genre Earle invemted with his hit song "Copperhead Road."  Earle, a recovering addict, seems to be working out some personal demons through the electric hum and manta-like lyric.  "Cocaine Cannot Kill My Pain."  This is what it might sound like if Ravi Shankar had left Monterey and went straight to a Lousiana porch to learn the blues.

Earle breaks out the mandolin and strums through the story of "Billy and Bonnie."  The two young lovers break free and go on a crime spree.  Of course, the older Bonnie stabs young Billy in the back and turns him in.

"South Nashville Blues" is just what the title says.  It's an acoustic blues in the tradition of a Blind Willie McTell.  The song follows strict blues traditions and highlights Earle's ability to lock down some of music's rich heritages as well as his own influences.

The closer is the Lucinda Williams duet "You're Still Standin' There."  It's another jangly confection that brings the album full circle with a strong mid tempo backbeat.

This LP almost catches Earle in transition from his days of fighting with the Nashville establishment trying to find his sound and returning from jail time recovering from substance abuse.  He had been redeemed by a solid comeback effort and here is its aftermath.  It definitely sounds like an artist making music his own way and proving that he can have success.  Steve Earle has written better songs and recorded better albums that I Feel Alright, but none probably have the overall appeal this single record collects.  It never overreaches and it hits every mark with a bullseye.  Steve Earle is an artist who has made a reputation of little compromise, but this album can make believers out of the holdouts.


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