Steve Earle & the Dukes / Steve Earle

Terraplane

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"Hell, everybody's sick of all my f---ing happy songs anyway," Steve Earle declares in the liner notes to his 2015 album Terraplane as he explains why he chose to cut a blues album. If you feel like you somehow missed Earle's Pollyanna period, you're not the only one, but if he was motivated to turn to the blues because of personal troubles -- he was going through his seventh divorce while he wrote and recorded these songs -- it sure sounds like he chose the right kind of musical therapy. Terraplane is the most relaxed and least fussed-over album Earle has made in quite some time, and frankly, he sounds like he's having a ball on these sessions; with rare exceptions, this isn't music that ponders the dark night of the soul, but semi-acoustic roadhouse boogie that rocks with a steady roll and gives Earle a chance to crow like a rooster as he ponders broken hearts, long lonesome highways, battles with the forces of destiny, and the enduring appeal of women in go-go boots. Terraplane is just introspective enough to suit the literacy of Earle's lyrical conceits (a wordiness that nearly gets away from him on the grand-scale shaggy dog tale of "The Tennessee Kid"), and he does take the opportunity to bare his soul on "Better Off Alone," but the interplay between Earle and the umpteenth edition of the Dukes (including longtime sidemen Kelly Looney on bass and Will Rigby on drums, as well as fiddler and vocalist Eleanor Whitmore and guitarist Chris Masterson) is downright playful when the tempo picks up a bit, and the good and greasy feel of "The Usual Time," "Ain't Nobody's Daddy Now," and "King of the Blues" is as satisfying as a big slab of smoked brisket. Maybe folks were tired of Earle's happy songs, but if you want to hear the man have a good time while kicking up a fuss in the studio, Terraplane is a ride well worth taking.

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