STEVE EARLE - Essential Steve Earle (1993) & Live From Austin TX (2017)
Stephen Fain "Steve" Earle is an American rock, country and folk singer-songwriter, record producer, author and actor. Earle began his career as a songwriter in Nashville and released his first EP in 1982. His breakthrough album was the 1986 album Guitar Town. Since then Earle has released 15 other studio albums and received three Grammy awards. His songs have been recorded by Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Travis Tritt, Vince Gill, Patty Loveless, Shawn Colvin, Ian Stuart Donaldson and Emmylou Harris. He has appeared in film and television, and has written a novel, a play, and a book of short stories.
Steve Earle lives up to the title billing here. While some of Earle's recent work (and live shows) have inclined to excess, this disc collects lean, mean, and vital material from Earle's first three outings - the country-rock masterpiece Guitar Town, the inward-looking Exit 0, and the angry lashing out of Copperhead Road. Essential is topped off by "Continental Trailways Blues," previously available only on a 1987 compilation. Thirteen tracks is a little skimpy; some rarities from the vaults would have been a nice touch.
Steve Earle wasn't yet one of the most respected, intelligent, and controversial voices in Nashville when he stepped on-stage for a taping of the long-running public television series Austin City Limits in the fall of 1986 -- back then, he was a promising newcomer who was touring behind his well-received debut album, Guitar Town, and was recording the follow-up in fits and starts when he had downtime from the road. Live from Austin TX, part of a series of CD and DVD releases from the rich Austin City Limits archive, captures Earle when his confidence and stage smarts were not quite what they would be later on, and though there are more than a few great songs in this set, many of the tunes that would become cornerstones of his later live show (especially the mature work from his post-"vacation in the ghetto" period) haven't been written yet, and frankly this edition of the Dukes wasn't the strongest he would ever have. But Earle's energy and enthusiasm is well in evidence on this set, his voice is in solid shape, and the performance builds up a solid head of steam as it chugs through a solid 17-song set. Live from Austin TX is hardly the definitive Steve Earle live album, but it's a fine snapshot of a major artist as he was first getting accustomed to the spotlight, and the talent, swagger, and conscience that would mark his best known work are all in evidence here, even if they haven't yet reached sharp focus.
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