Steve Earle's Top Seven Songs About Texas
As he nears 60 years of age, Steve Earle is a bearded musical buddha. He's also most certainly one of the greatest living songwriters. His career hasn't been as lengthy as that of Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen or Merle Haggard, but since he hit the scene in the mid-1980s with the massive country hit "Guitar Town," Earle began what can easily be argued as the best album-for-album body of work of any grizzled vet touring today.
The past decade has seen Earle go from hating on George W to loving the folkie life of a Greenwich Village-dweller to remembering his dear friend and hero Townes Van Zandt. His most recent works, however, haven't been exactly rich stories revolving around the people in the state he grew up in until his move to Music City in the mid 1970s. Sure, artists evolve, and his evolution has been a satisfying one, as his most recent album, The Low Highway, is a fantastic mix of roots, rock, storytelling and expert lyricism that's almost too predictable from him, though such predictability is welcome. With Earle bringing his band, the Dukes and Duchesses, to the Granada Theater for a show Saturday night, what better time than now to take a look back on Earle's best Tex-centric tunes.
"Fort Worth Blues"
Perhaps better than any other Earle tune, "Ft. Worth Blues," from the universally praised 1997 record El Corazon, is perhaps the strongest musical thread connecting him to the legendary names he knew and worshipped such as Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt. In fact, Guy Clark went on to record his own version on his superb 1999 album Cold Dog Soup.
From his 1995 record, Train a Comin', Earle digs deeper into his home turf than ever before, and perhaps ever since. He assumes the role of a Civil War infantryman who begins as a believer, and ends up as anything but. Beginning in the 1830's, McCulloch went from one of Davey Crockett's volunteers, to a Texas Ranger, only to become a Texas legislator and then to fight in the Civil War where he was killed in combat. Just one listen to the chorus and its clear to see the narrator was just fine with McCulloch's demise.
Also from El Corazon, Earle gives a stretch of Houston road the bouncing, juke-joint treatment. In this somewhat rare instance for an Earle-penned song, the lyrics themselves aren't the attention grabbers, as the legendary Gospel collective Fairfield Four singing behind Earle, breathing jubilant life into this song about the kind of good times that makes mothers worrisome. This tune gets double-points (whatever that may mean in this non-point-counting system) for the fact that Rodney Crowell also sang about this intriguing strip of Houston black-top.
"Home To Houston"
If this electric honky-tonk sawdust-kicker had been on one of Earle's first two albums, it would've likely seen commercial success to rival classics such as "Guitar Town." But by the time this song was included on Earle's Grammy-winning, Bush Administration-bashing The Revolution Starts Now in 2004, he was an Americana star, not a Top 40 stud. The rollicking, muscular tone of the song belies the stark fact that Earle's singing about a soldier practically resigned to not making it out of the desert alive.