Transcendental Blues (E-Squared/Artemis)
Steve Earle is a hard man to pin down these days. Each of the four albums he's created since being released from prison for drug possession have embraced a versatile range of styles. Transcendental Blues stands out because it mixes them all, creating a melting pot of blues, bluegrass, country, country rock and even Celtic reels threaded together by superb lyricism and consummate craftsmanship.
The title track opens the 15-song effort with shades of acoustic folk before switching midstream into a hard-rock vein that recalls Steve's '70s work with his band, The Dukes. The jangly Byrds'-flavored psychedelic guitars in "Everyone's In Love With You" jumps to acoustic country rock on "Another Town." Steve, who has been spending a lot of time in Ireland lately, throws in the Celtic romp "The Galway Girl." He sings a heartfelt duet with his sister, Stacey, on the plaintive "When
I Fall" and rocks out on the romantic "Until The Day I Die." The album ends on a sober note with "Over Yonder," a song for a Death Row inmate that sums up all the resignation and sorrow one might expect. While Steve explores a potpourri of styles - about a third of the album is devoted to country - he never loses his renegade spirit nor his sense of poetry.
On "Lonelier Than This," he describes himself as just an empty place where your love should be, and the song resonates with the dull ache most of us have encountered from time to time. That's the secret of Steve Earle's talent - he's an emotional weather map whose sunny skies and cloudy days are forecast on his sleeve. He has always been a maverick of the heart, and that's what makes this CD - and for that matter, all his albums - so compelling.