On Steve Earle’s new release, So You Wannabe An Outlaw, the stylized view of being an outlaw is given a much-needed return to reality. In the current country music genre, the term “outlaw” has become vernacular better lending itself to fashion sense over substance. Earle does a fine job on this album bringing the listener a view into the loneliness, self-destructive behavior, and despair that being an outlaw really brings into one’s life.
Earle has been through it all over the years: divorces, addiction, running with actual outlaws, jail stints, and more, which makes the album’s messages more like sage advice being handed down from the mountaintop rather than just a collection of songs.
The title track includes a guest appearance from Willie Nelson, which punctuates the message with a definite exclamation point. Midway through the album, the point is driven home with the song, “Fixin’ to Die,” with its down and dirty rock n’ roll riffage and chant of “I’m fixin’ to die and I reckon I’m going to hell.” If that fails to describe the arc of the outlaw, perhaps there is no tangible way to describe it.
Situational reality checks continue as the duet with Miranda Lambert, “This is How It Ends,” chronicles the death of a romance with a surprisingly poppy touch. To bring the message home, Earle returns two tracks later with the classic country-tinged, “You Broke My Heart.”
While Nelson was part of the original “outlaw country” movement, Earle was a member of the rough and tumble songwriter world that included folks like Townes Van Zandt, Blaze Foley, Wrecks Bell, Lucinda Williams and, the subject of the final track, “Goodbye Michelango,” Guy Clark. Saying goodbye to Clark, a mentor, friend and outlaw in his own right, Earle rests his case like a fine southern attorney.
Earle does not shy away from embracing his influences as guests and subjects, creating a beautifully cohesive and timeless body of work. As he sings in that final song: “I’m bound to follow you someday, because you have always lead the way.”
Purchase So You Wannabe An Outlaw, out via Warner Bros Records: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/so-you-wannabe-an-outlaw-deluxe-version/id1229256866