Friday, May 16, 2008
No. 489: Guitar Town
Band: Steve Earle
Album: Guitar Town
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Steve Earle was one of the earlier pioneers of alt country and his debut album still sits near the top of the genre's esteem. In 2006, it was ranked 27th on CMT's 40 Greatest Albums in Country Music.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: I am not a country music fan, nor a fan of 1980s production techniques. "Guitar Town" has both.
Best song: The title track isn't bad.
Worst song: "Down the Road" stinks.
Is it awesome?: Nah.
Again, let me first preface all I'm about to write by saying that I am woefully ignorant in the ways of country music. Certainly due to a classist bent, I was always under the impression that country music was for hill people and poor whites.
(This stereotype has moved, if our entertainment is correct, onto 1980s metal and the Chevy Camaro.)
So... I experienced much in the way of country music -- save for Johnny Cash and Richard Buckner (who is only country if you squint) -- until my college years when I was exposed to fellow Illinoisans Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy and the alt-country movement they helped spawn. Uncle Tupelo -- a band not on this list, by the way -- is always going to be my starting point when these discussions arise.
This means my appreciation for Steve Earle is minor. I know of him more from his "Jerusalem" album -- a record I reviewed for my college radio station -- than for this record.
"Guitar Town," to my ears, sounds a lot like the decade from which it spawned. It is the rock and roll of the time, with arrangements similar to Springsteen's. "Goodbye's All We've Got Left" has the same organ sound as "Glory Days" while "Someday" speaks of the blue collar blues evident on every Springsteen record.
The more country-sounding songs don't have any Springsteen in them, as "Hillbilly Blues" and "Think It Over" sound like something from a Hank Williams songbook (albeit overly produced). Neither is particularly good.
Earle's music certainly appeals to someone, but I prefer my country in the vein of Merle Haggard, Cash and Uncle Tupelo. This one is just too much a product of its time.