Say what you will about him, but Steve Earle has never been afraid of getting people mad at him if he thought it was the right thing to do, and since his mid-'90s career rebirth after overcoming multiple drug addictions, Earle seems far more interested in stirring people up with a productive purpose in mind rather than cheesing folks off just for the hell of it. Like nearly everyone in the United States, Earle was struck with anger and confusion following the events of September 11, 2001, and his thoughts on the subject form the backbone of his album Jerusalem. But instead of an appeal to patriotism or a tribute to the fallen, Earle has crafted a vision of America thrown into chaos, where the falling of the World Trade Center towers is just another symbol of a larger malaise which surrounds us. Before its release, Jerusalem already generated no small controversy over the song "John Walker's Blues," which tells the tale of "American Taliban" John Walker Lindh as seen through his own eyes. While "John Walker's Blues" is no more an endorsement of Lindh's actions than Bruce Springsteen's "Nebraska" was a tribute to mass-murderer Charles Starkweather, even though it's one of the album's strongest songs, if anything, it doesn't go quite far enough. While Earle's thumbnail sketch of how an American boy could find a truth in the words of Mohammad rings true, it never quite explains making the leap from studying Islam to taking up arms thousands of miles from home. Still, it's makes the point that the issues of our new "war on terrorism" are as relevant to our own backyards as the Middle East. As Earle tries to sort out the hows and whys of our news fears in "Ashes to Ashes" and "Conspiracy Theory," he can't help but think of other evidence of the erosion of the American dreams -- the growing gulf between the rich and the poor ("Amerika V. 6.0 (The Best We Can Do)"), the flaws of our judicial system ("The Truth"), illegal aliens chasing their own bit of an increasing elusive prosperity ("What's A Simple Man to Do"). Earle asks a lot of questions on Jerusalem for which no one has the answers, but for all the rage, puzzlement, and remorse of these songs, the title track closes the album with a message of fervent hope -- that the answers can't be found in hate or violence, but peace and forgiveness. Jerusalem is the work of a thinking troublemaker with a loving heart, and while more than a few people will be angered by some of his views, Earle asks too many important questions to ignore, and the album is a brave and thought-provoking work of political art.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming