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Transcendental Blues
Artist: Steve Earle
Label: E-Squared Records
Length: 15 tracks - 41:45 minutes

Steve Earle is an outlaw.  He has locked horns with just about everyone in the Nashville music making machine.  In and out of prison with an addiction to cocaine, there was a point a few years back when only a few people were even willing to be called his friends.  But he is, arguably, one of the best songwriters to have come out of the country music scene.  To his credit and to our benefit the past few years have seen him turn his life around.  Clean and sober, he has formed his own record company, E-Squared, and released his best project to date--"Transcendental Blues."  The songs on this project run the gamut from straight up country to rock to bluegrass with a Celtic tune thrown in for good measure.  Fans of the alt. country music scene will especially like this disk.   Nothing predictable here except good, solid songwriting.

Accompanying himself on guitar, mandolin, harmonium, resonator guitar, and harmonica, Earle is joined by David Steele on electric guitar, Kelley Looney on bass, and Will Rigby on drums and percussion.  His gruff vocals add to the image of the tough country outlaw, but his lyrics belie a tender heart and thoughtful mind.  Themes such as lost love, loneliness, traveling the open road, and dealing with the baggage of past defeats and failures pervades these songs.  In "Lonelier Than This" he sings "It doesen't get any lonelier than this. / 'Cause I'm on this road alone. / My heartbeat ringin' like a hollow drum./  I'm about as lonesome as a poor boy gets. / And there's nothin' I can do / 'Cause it's dark out here and I can't find you. / It doesn't get any lonelier than this."  "The Boy Who Never Cried" tells the story of a magical boy who grew up never shedding a tear.  Earle entertains a spiritual moment in the title song - "in the darkest hour of the longest night / if it was in my power I'd step into the light / Candles on the altar, penny in your shoe / Walk upon the water ---transcendental blues."

On a lighter note, Earle goes Celtic with the tune "Galway Girl."  A wonderful duet with sister Stacey can be found in "When I Fall,"  and "I Don't Wanna Lose You Yet" celebrates love.  Steve Earle is known for being a champion of many causes one of them being his disagreement with the death penalty in our penal system.  He takes his best shots here in the bluegrass tune "Until The Day I Die," and the somber closer "Over Yonder (Jonathan's Song)."

Even though he's cleaned himself up, Steve Earle is still a rebel. Outspoken, vulgar, and opinionated, he's still making enemies along the way.  The liner notes to this project contain some wording not for tender ears and many radio stations have had to quickly turn off the cd after playing the single "Steve's Last Ramble" as it contains some vulgar spoken language immediately following it.  But the songwriting is so strong on this release that these excesses can be overlooked.  If you like music that is interesting and varied with lyrics that are thoughtful and speak to the heart, then "Transcendental Blues" is not to be missed.

Janet Friesen 8/28/2000



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