The original trailblazer of alt-country, a protest singer of fiery commitment, a songwriter of towering ability – Steve Earle is an artist of expansive talents. He’s on his way to MASS MoCA, a sack full of Grammy Awards and his gravelly, impassioned voice in tow, for a solo show just before the release of Terraplane, his new album of swampy, southern-stomp blues. Steve Earle plays MASS MoCA’s Hunter Center in North Adams on Saturday, February 7, at 8pm.
The now-legendary Earle has always done what he wanted: he taught himself guitar at the age of 11, and at age 14 attempted to run away from home to follow his musical idol, Townes Van Zandt. Two years later, he dropped out of high school and moved to Houston with his 19-year old uncle, where he finally met Van Zandt, eventually becoming his protégé.
In the first few years of her career, Shawn Colvin was devastating. Remember, she was already 33 when “Steady On” was released in 1989, a fully developed artist who had advanced beyond a mere Joni Mitchell fascination to carve out her own hard, smooth territory.
The propulsive, open-tuned guitar, the flinty, percussive lyrics and a terrifying gift for melody — all of which were nurtured by a relationship with John Leventhal — joined with a preternatural onstage confidence, making Colvin something more than powerful, but mesmerizing.
But around the time she finally hit it big, with “Sunny Came Home,” in 1997, the demons started creeping out of her songs and into her life. Depression cracked the façade and her performances became scattered, sometimes downright weird.
The first time I saw Steve Earle live was at The Ritz in 1987.
He was the unannounced opening act for the Replacements, and he was in fact replacing the originally announced Green on Red. That was a good thing in my book. The then minty fresh “Guitar Town” was pretty much living on my turntable, whereas GOR’s “The Killer Inside Me” was boring my pants off and nobody wants to see that, not even back then.
The last time I saw Steve Earle was Sunday night, at Hudson’s Club Helsinki, and in some kind of weird time loop, I ended up watching the first part of the show over new Hudson resident Tommy Stinson’s shoulder.
I’m here to tell you the man rocks a trilby. Stinson. Not Earle. Earle is bald like me.
At The Ritz, in another lifetime, Earle was a fine young buck, playing the role of a Texas Springsteen in a white V-neck and slim blue jeans. In Hudson, he was all pate and beard, thumbpick and glasses.
But the songs are still there, and Earle owns Americana whether alone or with a band.
The Grammy nominations have been announced, and we’d like to send our congratulations to a number of Nippertonians who have been honored for their work this past year, including producer Joel Moss, musicians Levon Helm and Steve Earle and the record label Planet Arts.
At the top of the list is Saratoga Springs engineer and producer Joel Moss, who is gunning for his sixth Grammy Award. He has been nominated in the Best Musical Theater Album category for his production of the cast album for “Anything Goes.” He’s previously snagged Grammys for his work with Tony Bennett, Ray Charles (including Album of the Year for “Genius Loves Company”), the compilation soundtrack for the film “Chicago” and the cast album of “In the Heights.”
A pair of veteran Woodstockers also earned nominations this year, with Levon Helm getting a nom in the Best Americana Album category for “Ramble at the Ryman,” with Steve Earle was honored with a nomination in the Best Folk Album category for “I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive.” Helm’s two previous albums – “Dirt Farmer” and “Electric Dirt” – both won Grammys. Earle has previously won Grammys for “The Revolution Starts…Now,” “Washington Square Serenade” and “Townes.”
And finally, let’s hear it for Planet Arts, the little record company that could. Tom Bellino’s small, not-for-profit jazz label based in Catskill has produced yet another album by the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra that’s earned a Grammy nomination. Bob Brookmeyer was honored with a nomination in the Best Instrumental Arrangement category for “Nasty Dance,” which appears on VJO’s double-CD set, “Forever Lasting: Live in Tokyo.” VJO has previously won two Grammys for albums on the Planet Arts label – “The Way: Music of Slide Hampton” and “Monday Night Live at the Village Vanguard.”
The Grammy Award winners will be announced on Sunday, February 12.
A great big deal was made about Steve Earle’s new New York sound when he moved to Manhattan a few years back. His 2007 album, “Washington Square Serenade,” in title and in content nodded to New York, with references to Pale Male, bad radio and the cacophony of voices echoing Ellis Island into the 21st century. Earle even recorded parts of the disc at home on Jones Street, pulling in loops, DJ beats and sounds of hip-hop and forro.
Today Earle releases his first album of original music since “Serenade,” and, if anything, “I’ll Never Get Out Of This World Alive,” is an even more New York record (despite being recorded in LA).
More than a few folks in the crowd at The Egg on Friday night were wearing a look of surprise when Hot Tuna took the stage with an extra guitarist – G.E. Smith. As if Jorma just wasn’t enough.
But the truth of the matter was that Smith – who’s been playing with the band for about a month now – seemed to settle right into the Hot Tuna scheme of things quite nicely without much disruption at all.
Want to read my review of Steve Earle’s Saturday night concert at The Egg? Just go here.
And see the set list below.
My favorite quote that didn’t make it into the Times Union review?
“If this song doesn’t scare the fuck out of you, you are seriously over-medicated” (as an introduction to his dark, minor-key howl through Townes Van Zandt’s “Lungs”).
Earle is also slated to guest on “The Late Show with David Letterman” on Wednesday night, June 3.
And he’s slated for another solo acoustic concert at the Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield, Mass. at 7:30pm Tuesday, July 14.
STEVE EARLE @ The Egg, 5/30/09
Where I Lead Me
Ft. Worth Blues
Pancho & Lefty
Brand New Companion
Tom Ames’ Prayer
Ellis Unit One
More Than I Can Do
Mr. Mudd and Mr. Gold (w/Justin Townes Earle)
Sparkle and Shine
Days Are Never Long Enough (w/Allison Moorer)
City of Immigrants (w/Allison Moorer)
To Live Is to Fly
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