Album Review: Steve Earle “I’ll Never Get Out Of This World Alive”

REVIEW BY: ERIC PAULSEN

Steve Earle is probably the only artist with the street credibility and musical resume to get away with not only covering what is arguably the most famous Hank Williams Sr. song, but to carbon copy the instrumentation and arrangement of the song and then use it as his own album’s title.

I’ll Never Get Out Of This World Alive is Earle’s fourteenth studio album, produced by T-Bone Burnett and recorded almost entirely live in the studio, a style that is a throwback to the days when country music was in sync with the heart of the common American. This simple recording technique lets musicians draw from each other’s strengths and allows a singular personality to emerge when listening to this album, one that is subtly rebellious and confidently trepidatious.

I’ll Never Get Out Of This World Alive is decidedly more country than recent Earle albums, but is no snoozer for those who love his loud and reckless ways. Sure, the distortion on the electric guitar is missing and he is surrounded by fiddle, mandolin and pedal steel guitar, but it is as if Earle is showing the listener rooms in his house that he rarely shows others and hardly ever visits himself. He seems to be reaching for something beyond a clever turn of phrase or catchy guitar riff, like he wants to turn things down so that the listener can hear it better.

Though Earle is known for his more liberal political leanings in a country landscape mostly settled by conservative ideals and has often centered albums or songs on such controversial topics as the war on terror, the death penalty, HMOs and the war on drugs, he takes some time to look inwardly on I’ll Never Get Out Of This World Alive, reflecting on the wandering, searching and discovery of one man’s journey through a life that has been filled with limousines and Grammy awards during one part of his life and vacations to a heroin addict’s ghetto in another.

There is a sincere and candid look into mortality on the album and Earle seems comfortable with the belief that purpose and meaning can be found even when the answers to some of life’s greatest questions remain mysterious and elusive. “God is God” is the most obvious example of this, where he writes, “Maybe someone’s watching and wondering what I got. Maybe this is why I’m here, but then maybe not.”

Earle is that cowboy who could fill a record with stories of adventure, but instead chooses on this album to emphasize things he has learned and felt during his most important moments. “Every Part Of Me,” is a song where Earle allows himself to be particularly vulnerable when he writes, “And when I’m gone they’ll sing a song about a lonely fool who wandered around the world and back again, but in the end he finally found her.”

It is appropriate that the most upbeat song, “Little Emperor,” is the closest thing on this album to some of Earle’s more rocking and politically-washed songs. Earle takes a king’s belief that he is ordained by God and imagines him ultimately being judged, mocking the notion that a lasting legacy can be created through conquest. Earle asks, “How you gonna justify, who you gonna call, what if it turns out that God don’t look like you at all?”

Earle was mentored by such artists as Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark, and his written songs that were recorded by musicians like Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris, Waylon Jennings and Joan Baez. Besides being a recording artist, he is a poet, novelist, radio host and actor. Earle will tour this summer in support of I’ll Never Get Out Of This World Alive. More information regarding Steve Earle can be found at steveearle.com

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