Steve Young

Renegade Picker

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Renegade Picker, issued in 1976, is the first of a pair recorded for RCA -- to date, Young's last major-label deal. Renegade Picker and its compatriot, No Place to Fall, issued two years later, are stellar examples of outlaw country at its best. Equal parts country, rock, blues, and gospel, the album is stocked like a trout pond with awesome songs. Young is his own best coach when it comes to recording material other than his own, and here he grabs the best. The title track is a stomping, choogling, cut-time anthem with Buddy Emmons' pedal steel and the popping electrics of Jerry Chock and Dale Sellers. As if to answer the question as to where the new hard-driving sound came from, Young follows it up with a moving cover of Merle Haggard's "I Can't Be Myself," a slow and deliberate honky tonk number full of restless country-soul. Side one's highlight is a rollicking version of J.D. Loudermilk's "Tobacco Road" driven by bluesed-out acoustic guitars, stomping feet, and Terry McMillan's harmonica. If side one is a primer on Young's country heritage and outlaw lineage, side two is his statement of purpose. The first cut is a re-recording of "Lonesome, On'ry, and Mean," with a full-on band burning at the edges of his vocal. Buddy Emmons' steel drives the entire track just atop the drums. But it's Young's version of Guy Clark's "Broken Hearted People (Take Me to a Barroom)" with Tracy Nelson's backing vocals that brings the essence of the fissure between the tradition and new breed home. His reading of the song is more country than Clark's folky one, but Young can hear Hank Williams and Billy Joe Shaver in Clark's lyric; he holds the tension between the two inside the grain of his voice. Renegade Picker and No Place to Fall have been reissued as a double-CD package on BMG in Europe, completely remastered for a budget price. No matter how you get these records, just get them. They sound as relevant as they did 25 years ago.

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