I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive
First Appeared in The Music Box, December 2011, Volume 18, #9
Written by John Metzger
Wed December 14, 2011, 05:30 AM CST
Winning a Grammy Award can affect an artist in a variety of ways. For Steve Earle, the recognition of his 2008 set Washington Square Serenade pushed him to take a step back from his career in order to reflect, if only for a moment, upon his roots. Earle has long been championing the songs of the late, great Townes Van Zandt, and not surprisingly, on the aptly titled Townes, it was to the source of his inspiration that he turned when he most needed an opportunity to collect his thoughts. The fact that Townes also was honored by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences likely did little to ease the pressure.
As he makes clear in the liner notes to his latest endeavor Iíll Never Get Out of This World Alive, however, Earle never really stopped writing. Rather than push forward with a new album of original material, he instead immersed himself in an array of projects and personal responsibilities. Further establishing his already significant acting credentials, Earle brought an incredible amount of depth to Harley, his character on Treme. He also completed his first novel, which, not so coincidentally, shares its title with his new album.
In his book Iíll Never Get Out of This World Alive, Earle delves into the life and music of Hank Williams, another of his heroes. A slice of historical fiction, the tale is set long ago, deep in the heart of Texas. Although the death-stalked tome doesnít directly relate to the material on the album of the same name, the themes, concepts, and ideas that Earle explores in each are linked closely in spirit.
The songs featured on Iíll Never Get Out of This World Alive were written over a period of roughly three years. During this time, Earle also had to cope with the loss of his father. Although death plays a key role on the album, it isnít nearly as dark and claustrophobic as its title might otherwise suggest. In fact, between its character studies and personal reflections, the set sufficiently summarizes this era of Earleís life. On Little Emperor, he offers a final, angry farewell to President Bush, while This City ó which was used to tremendous effect on Treme ó pays homage to the resilience of the citizens of New Orleans. Elsewhere, on the tenderhearted Every Part of Me, he pledges his love to his immediate family, while I Am a Wanderer illuminates the restless spirit of a creative personality.
Earle tapped T Bone Burnett to produce Iíll Never Get Out of This World Alive. Using a lighter touch than usual, Burnett resisted the urge to slather the affair with the sorts of swampy atmospherics that have graced many of his projects. Aside from the Cajun-inflected shimmer of Waitiní on the Sky and the voodoo-infused blues of Meet Me in the Alleyway, there is little trace that Burnett was involved in sculpting the affair. Even the aforementioned songs arenít far removed from the landscapes that Earle typical traverses.
Even so, some moments on Iíll Never Get Out of This World Alive outshine all of the other tracks on the set, most notably God Is God and The Gulf of Mexico. Joan Baez tackled the former tune on her 2008 outing Day after Tomorrow. Delivered by a man who lost his father, God Is God assumes even greater resonance. Haunted by shadows and ghosts, it addresses spiritual concerns from within the honest spaces that uncertainty constructs. With The Gulf of Mexico, Earle not only highlights the impact that the shrimping and oil industries have had upon Americaís aqueous southern border, but he also empathetically examines three generations of working men who made their living from the sea.
The rest of Iíll Never Get Out of This World Alive never quite achieves the same level of perfection as God Is God and The Gulf of Mexico. In fact, the entire set is essentially a hodgepodge of songs that feel decidedly more cohesive than they should. Clearly, Earle was distracted during the process of constructing the affair. Nevertheless, the funny thing about Iíll Never Get Out of this World Alive is this: Even when Earle spreads himself a little too thin, he still comes up with a few stirring nuggets that make the journey wholly worthwhile. Ĺ
Of Further Interest...
I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
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