I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive by Steve Earle

Steve Earle’s first album of all-new material since 2007 shares the title of his new novel, and the pursuit of book writing has apparently diffused the white-hot political torch he wielded on recent efforts.

He weighs in on post-Katrina New Orleans and the Gulf oil spill, the latter in an Irish-styled number that honors generations of workers who managed to keep the black stuff more or less inside the barrels. But mostly, he veers between character studies, personal emotions and philosophical musings in relatively sparse folk/country songs. The disc reveals a few hard edges but offers optimism even as it explores the thornier corners of human behavior.

“Heaven or Hell” ponders not eternal destinations but the puzzling extremes of the romantic experience, while the stirring “I Am a Wanderer” is the inspirational high point, evoking the spirit of old civil rights songs but speaking equally to all skin colors.

If Earle’s cautious hope isn’t as declarative as, say, that of a Martin Luther King Jr., his latest album makes it clear he has a dream.

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