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Steve Earle's Terraplane: Reviewed

By on December 29, 2014

By Steve Crawford
steveearle-terraplane-finalcover-72dpiSteve Earle Terraplane CD Review
On Steve Earle’s 16th studio album, he’s a man with the blues.  Or, more accurately, a man with “the blues.”  This isn’t a record of contemporary blues material and neither is it a heartfelt tribute album in the mode of Phil and Dave Alvin’s excellent 2014 release Common Ground.  For a stylistic predecessor, go way back to Billy Joel’s 1980’s album An Innocent Man, where Joel wrote pop tributes to pre-British Invasion rock ‘n’ roll.  Steve Earle’s Terraplane attempts to recreate the sound and style of blues greats like Howlin’ Wolf, Mance Lipscomb, and Lightnin’ Hopkins on Terraplane using his own original compositions.  For the most part, he fails miserably.
There are, at least, three fundamental problems with Earle’s approach to this album.  Vocally, Earle is a born hammer; he’s the type of singer that works when he’s going for the jugular.  He has no ability to project whimsy or humor.  The attempts at being lighthearted simply come across as flat.  When he rhymes “school/fool” and “light/outasite” on “Go Go Boots Are Back,” it doesn’t sound like he’s bringing a hip blues attitude to the party – it just sounds lazy.
The second fundamental problem is that Earle has always been a lyric driven artist and he has nothing to say on this album.  Since he’s emulating his blues heroes instead of writing in his own voice, he isn’t trying to communicate his own emotions or thoughts.  While the use of repetitive patterns is a blues tradition, when he sings the word “baby” over 75 times on the lead track, titled “Baby Baby Baby (Baby),” it’s almost like a practical joke he’s playing on the listener.  The pretentious spoken word fire and brimstone allegory “The Tennessee Kid” sounds like something Earle cribbed from Ray Wylie Hubbard’s trashcan.
One could label the final problem generously as an inability to transcend his influences or, perhaps more accurately, unimaginative theft.  The foundation of “Acquainted With the Wind” is a direct rip of the riff from The Who’s “My Generation.”  “Gamblin’ Blues” sounds like an upbeat version of “Frankie and Johnny” with different lyrics.
While the majority of the material doesn’t work, “Better Off Alone” is a slow tempo, psychedelic tinged, blues pop song with the best vocal on the album.  The closer, “King of the Blues,” has the badass hyperbole of the best of Muddy Waters (think of his version of Willie Dixon’s “The Seventh Son”) with a Hendrix inspired blues sound.  Earl would have made a much better album if he had used ‘60s blues rock for his template.
One on level you can admire the schoolyard punk hubris of Earle titling his record with a Robert Johnson reference, but his blues pastiches are so comparatively pale that it makes him seem completely blinded by his own arrogance.  I’m left wondering if anyone in Earle’s camp ever tells him that he has a bad idea.  Earle is an artist that I have long admired and respected, but blues is about authenticity and emotion, instead Earle delivered self-congratulatory period pieces.
Grade – C
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LINER NOTES, Lyrics, etc.
TERRAPLANE ALBUM COPY
1. BABY BABY BABY (BABY) 3:39
2. YOU’RE THE BEST LOVER THAT I EVER HAD 4:07
3. THE TENNESSEE KID 4:05
4. AIN’T NOBODY’S DADDY NOW 2:29
5. BETTER OFF ALONE 4:27
6. THE USUAL TIME 2:59
7. GO GO BOOTS ARE BACK 3:33
8. ACQUAINTED WITH THE WIND 2:20
9. BABY’S JUST AS MEAN AS ME 2:35
10. GAMBLIN’ BLUES 2:04
11. KING OF THE BLUES 3:52
STEVE EARLE ­ GUITARS, MANDOLIN, HARMONICA, VOCAL CHRIS MASTERSON ­ GUITARS
ELEANOR WHITMORE ­ FIDDLE, VOCALS KELLY LOONEY ­ BASS
WILL RIGBY ­ DRUMS
PRODUCED BY R.S. FIELD
RECORDED BY RAY KENNEDY AT HOUSE OF BLUES STUDIO D NASHVILLE TENNESSEE
ASSISTED BY TOM FREITAG
MIXED AND MASTERED BY RAY KENNEDY AT ROOM AND BOARD NASHVILLE TENNESSEE
ALL SONGS WRITTEN BY STEVE EARLE
EXILE ON JONES ST. MUSIC (ASCAP) EXCEPT THE USUAL TIME ­ WARNER OLIVE MUSIC LLC (ASCAP) (note: this pub may be revised)
A&R ­ GARY BRIGGS
GUITAR TECH ­ BRIAN DENNY
MANAGEMENT­ DANNY GOLDBERG, JESSE BAUER FOR GOLD VILLAGE ENTERTAINMENT
BUSINESS MANAGEMENT ­ KURT VITOLO FOR KV FINANCIAL
LEGAL ­ ROSEMARY CARROLL FOR CARROLL, GUIDO AND GROFFMAN NORTH AMERICA BOOKING ­ WME
EUROPEAN BOOKING ­ PAUL FENN FOR ASGARD LTD
PUBLICITY NORTH AMERICA­ BRADY BROCK, GOLD VILLAGE ENTERTAINMENT UK PUBLICITY ­ RICHARD WOOTTON FOR RICHARD WOOTTON PUBLICITY
COVER ART BY TONY FITZPATRICK DESIGN BY TIM HOGAN
PHOTOS BY TED BARRON
THANKS TO GARY BELZ, WALTER AND CHRISTY CARTER AT CARTER VINTAGE GUITARS ­ NASHVILLE, ALL AT MATT UMANOV GUITARS ­ NEW YORK, TOM AND ALEX AT TR CRANDALL GUITARS ­ NEW YORK, ALL AT MARTIN GUITARS, JAMES TRUSSART GUITARS, HOHNER MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS, PEAVY ELECTRONICS, FISHMAN TRANSDUCERS, JEFF HOFFEE AT HOFFEE CASES, CHARLIE CHADWICK AT CHADWICK FOLDING BASS, GRETSCH DRUMS, CAMERON STRANG, GEORGE FONTAINE, MIKE RUTHIG, GEORGE FONTAINE JR, PETER JESPERSON, JOEL HABBESHAW, TOMMY ROBINSON, JAY WILLIAMS, JOE BRAUNER, JULIE
COLBERT, BEN VAUGHN, JOHN ALLEN, COY MARTIN, JEREMY TEPPER, MARC GEIGER, LAURENT HUBERT AND KATE HYMAN.
SPECIAL THANKS TO JAKE SCHEIN
DEDICATED TO THE MEMORY OF JOHNNY WINTER
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LINER NOTES
Lightnin’ Hopkins once said “The blues is something that’s hard to get acquainted with. Just like death.” Then he declared with his very next breath “The blues dwell with you each and every day and everywhere.”
On the surface the one statement would seem to contradict the next but the blues are anything but superficial. In fact, they run so deep and dark and close to the bone that folks walk around everyday with the blues as though it were perfectly natural for a human being to go on living with a broken heart (apologies to Tony Kushner).
There are those who will tell you that they know for a fact that the blues are all about the numbers, socio­economic parameters or rules of musical notation, as if a mathematical equation of some sort could offer any insight into loneliness and despair. Others will swear it’s a matter of geography, which side of the tracks you were born on or the color of the dirt underneath your fingernails.
For my part, I’ve only ever believed two things about the blues: one, that they are very democratic, the commonest of human experience, perhaps the only thing that we all truly share and two, that one day, when it was time, I would make this record.
And it’s time. Hell, everybody’s sick of all my fucking happy songs anyway.
STEVE EARLE NEW YORK CITY NOVEMBER 2014
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LYRICS
BABY BABY BABY (BABY)
I GOT A GIRL THAT LIVE WAY DOWN SOUTH
A LITTLE TOWN THEY CALL “SHUT MY MOUTH”
A THOUSAND MILES DON’T MEAN A DOGGONE THING
CALL HER ON THE PHONE AND HEAR IT RING­A­LING­A­LING
AND SHE SAY BABY BABY BABY BABY BABY BABY BABY BABY
BABY BABY BABY BABY OOH BABY BABY
BABY BABY BABY
MY LITTLE GAL SHE STAND FIVE FEET AIN’T I WANNA HOLD HER BUT I KNOW I CAIN’T
I ONLY SEE HER WHEN THE MOON IS BLUE
CALL HER ON THE PHONE AND TELL HER WHAT I’M GONNA DO AND I SAY….
BABY BABY BABY BABY YOU’RE FINE
GOT ME HANGIN’ ON THE TELEPHONE LINE
WALKIN’ ON THE CEILIN’ AND BOUNCIN’ OFF THE WALLS BABY BABY BABY CAN’T YOU HEAR ME WHEN I CALL
————————
YOU’RE THE BEST LOVER THAT I EVER HAD
HEY BABY LET YOUR HAIR HANG DOWN FALLING LIKE SOFT RAIN ALL AROUND HEY HONEY PUT YOUR LIPS ON MINE SMOOTH LIKE SILK AND SWEET LIKE WINE
NEVER HAD ANOTHER KISS TASTE LIKE THAT YOU’RE THE BEST LOVER THAT I EVER HAD
HEY BABY WHISPER IN MY EAR WAY UP CLOSE SO I CAN HEAR
HEY BABY WHEN YOU CALL MY NAME
THE HEAVENS SHAKE AND THE ANGELS SING I KNOW IT’S A SIN BUT I WANT YOU BAD YOU’RE THE BEST LOVER THAT I EVER HAD
HEY BABY WON’T YOU LET ME IN
IT’S COLD OUT HERE AND I’M SHIVERIN’ HEY BABY TURN YOUR LIGHT DOWN LOW
YOUR MAMA AND THEM AND YOUR MAN WON’T KNOW BREAKS MY HEART WHEN YOU TREAT ME BAD
BUT YOU’RE THE BEST LOVER THAT I EVER HAD
——————
THE TENNESSEE KID
ON MARDI GRAS DAY THE TENNESSEE KID AWOKE IN A PUDDLE OF HIS OWN WORST FEARS HAUNTED BY THE GHOST OF VAGUE REMEMBRANCE NO CORPOREAL BEAST HE COULD NAME
SO THE KID INVOKED LUCIFER HIMSELF
WITH OATHS MOST GRIEVOUSLY DISCOURTEOUS AND CHARGED HIM SUBMIT FORTHWITH TO ATONE AT THE CROSSROADS CELEBRATED IN SONG
COME ON
UP JUMPED THE DEVIL IN THE MIDDLE OF THE THOROUGHFARE “WHO DARES TO UTTER MY MOST SECRET NAME?” HE ROARED
BUT THE KID YIELDED NOT SO MUCH AS AN INCH TO UNCERTAINTY STEADFAST HE REJOINED THE ENEMY IN KIND
“OLD PATCH THEN, SATAN, MEPHISTOPHELES, BEELZEBUB BY ANY OTHER NAME YOU AIN’T NOTHIN’ LIKE A ROSE” THEN HE GIRDED HIS LOINS FOR THE ENSUING ONSLAUGHT
BUT THE DEVIL ONLY SHRUGGED AND THE KID SHUDDERED WHEN HE HISSED HE SAID
HEY HEY HEY HEY HEY HEY HEY HEY HEY HEY HEY HEY
THE BALANCE COMES DUE SOMEDAY
WAIT JUST ONE GODDAMN MINUTE CRIED THE KID FROM THE CUMBERLAND YOU NEVER MENTION NOTHIN’ ‘BOUT NO KINDA NOTE
JUST SAID ­ SIGN HERE ­ IT’S JUST A SOUL ­ YOU’LL NEVER MISS IT
I AIN’T SET FOOT IN A CHURCH SINCE I WAS JUST A LITTLE OL’ THANG RECKONED I WAS HEADED STRAIGHT TO HELL BY THE HIGHWAY
NO MATTER HOW LONG AND HOW HARD THAT I PRAYED
SO I MIGHT AS WELL LEARN HOW TO MAKE THIS GUITAR TALK SOMEBODY SAID OL’ BOB JOHNSON CAME DOWN THIS WAY DEVIL SAY
BLACK WINGS ECLIPSING A SANGUINE MISSISSIPPI MOON BEHOLD BEHEMOTH THE TRAMPLER OF INFIDELS,
HE WHO SWEEPS AWAY NATIONS WITH A FLICK OF HIS TAIL THEOPOLIS, AGRRIPPA, FAUSTUS, PAGANINI
LURID AND LONG IS THE TALE OF MY PREY QUESTION NOT THE IRONCLAD BOND OF MY SURETY SET DOWN HERE IN BLOOD IN YOUR VERY OWN HAND
AND THE TENNESSEE KID CAST AN EYE
ON THE LIST WHERE HIS MARK WAS INDEED CLEARLY INSCRIBED AND HE FELL TO HIS KNEES BUT IT WAS TOO LATE TO PRAY
AND WITH HIS VERY LAST BREATH HE DID SAY
———————
AIN’T NOBODY’S DADDY NOW
STANDIN’ ON THE CORNER BLEECKER AND CARMINE MONEY IN MY POCKET AND WOMEN ON MY MIND
I’M FREE
CAN’T NOBODY TIE ME DOWN NOTHIN’ EVER WORRIES ME AIN’T NOBODY’S DADDY NOW
NEW YORK CITY WOMEN ARE THE VERY FINEST KIND
CLACKIN’ ON THEM HIGH HEELS LIKE AN ENGINE DOWN THE LINE
USED TO HAVE A WOMAN WORRY ME TO DEATH
HAND WAS IN MY POCKET AND HER FOOT WAS ON MY NECK
GOT A BABY ON THE EASTSIDE A HONEY ON THE WEST
GOT A WOMAN UPTOWN BUT THE DOWNTOWN GALS ARE BEST
————————
BETTER OFF ALONE
IF YOU WANT TO THERE’S THE DOOR
CAN’T IMAGINE WHAT YOU’RE WAITING FOR
‘CAUSE I KNOW YOU AIN’T THE KIND TO EVER CHANGE YOUR MIND
AND THOUGH
I TAUGHT YOU EVERYTHING YOU KNOW
I LEARNED A THING OR TWO MYSELF AND SO I’M GONNA MISS YOU WHEN YOU’RE GONE BUT I’M BETTER OFF ALONE
I
CAN’T SAY THAT I’M SURPRISED
‘CAUSE THAT LEAVIN’ LOOK WAS IN YOUR EYES FOR SOME TIME NOW AND I KNEW
I WAS LOSING YOU
YOU
AIN’T NEVER ANYTHING BUT BLUE
AND NOW YOU SAY YOU FOUND SOMEBODY NEW YOU CAN LAY THAT BURDEN ON
GUESS I’M BETTER OFF ALONE
SAY WHAT YOU THINK YOU GOTTA SAY
JUST DON’T TELL ME YOU CHANGED YOUR MIND AND YOU’RE GONNA STAY I CAN’T TELL YOU WHAT I’D DO THEN
‘CAUSE I JUST CANT GO THROUGH THAT
AGAIN
‘CAUSE IT ALMOST KILLED ME THEN AND I GUESS I SHOULDA KNOWN THAT I’M BETTER OFF ALONE
AND IT’S CLEAR THE STORY’S SHOWN I’M BETTER OFF ALONE
————
THE USUAL TIME
LATE IN THE EVENIN’
YOU’RE JUST ABOUT TO LAY DOWN WHAT’S THAT AT YOUR BACKDOOR
DID YOU HEAR A STRANGE SOUND GIRL? HONEY I JUST SAW YOUR LIGHT
HERE I COME BABY IT’S THE USUAL TIME OF THE NIGHT
I CAN’T HELP BUT WANT YOU EVER SINCE I‘VE KNOWN YOU I WOULD NEVER HURT YA
I DON’T WANNA OWN YOU GIRL
I JUST WANNA HOLD YOU TIGHT
HERE I COME BABY IT’S THE USUAL TIME OF THE NIGHT
I KNOW YOU DON’T LOVE ME I KNOW YOU DON’T NEED ME BUT IF YOU EVER WANT ME
JUST TURN ON YOUR BACK PORCH LIGHT AT THE USUAL TIME OF THE NIGHT
I BEEN DOWN TO TEXAS
I BEEN TO NEW ORLEANS I WAS BORN TO RAMBLE
YOU WERE BORN TO HAUNT MY DREAMS ANYTIME THE MOON IS RIGHT
HERE I COME BABY IT’S THE USUAL TIME OF THE NIGHT
————
GO GO BOOTS ARE BACK
GO GO BOOTS ARE BACK AND I THINK THAT’S OUTASITE
THE KIDS DON’T CALL ‘EM THAT BUT THEY’RE GO GO BOOTS ALRIGHT I WAS JUST A LITTLE BOY THE FIRST TIME THEY COME AROUND
BUT MY SISTER HAD HER SOME AND SHE WORE ‘EM UP TOWN AND SHE DID THE DIRTY DOG AND THE BOOGALOO ALL NIGHT GO GO BOOTS ARE BACK AND I THINK THAT’S OUTASITE
‘CAUSE I HAD A LITTLE PSYCHEDELIC THING OF MY OWN
IS IT REALLY ANY WONDER THAT I NEVER FINISHED SCHOOL
‘CAUSE I’M WANDERIN’ THE HALLWAYS AND I’M GRINNIN’ LIKE A FOOL AND I NEVER NEEDED ANY KINDA ARTIFICIAL LIGHT
BUT GO GO BOOTS ARE BACK AND I THINK IT’S OUTASITE
WRAP YOURSELF AROUND ME LIKE A CIRCLE ‘ROUND THE SUN TAKE ME UP THE COUNTRY WHERE THE CRIMSON WATERS RUN
‘CAUSE THE ROAD GOES ON FOREVER AND A CIRCLE NEVER ENDS EVERYTHING THAT GOES AROUND COMES BACK AROUND AND THEN
MIRROR SHADES ARE IN AND I’M WEARIN’ ‘EM AGAIN THEY KEEP THE MORNIN’ OUT AND THE MYSTERY IN
QUICK ­ TELL ME IF MY EYES ARE BROWN OR IF THEY’RE BLUE
‘CAUSE WHEN YOU LOOK INSIDE ALL YOU’RE GONNA SEE IS YOU
BUT YOU’LL KNOW WHERE I’M GOIN’ AND WHERE YOU BEEN ALRIGHT AND GO GO BOOTS ARE BACK AND I THINK IT’S OUTASITE
———————
ACQUAINTED WITH THE WIND
I’M A TRAVELIN’ MAN WHEREVER I ROAM ALL OVER THIS LAND I’M NEVER ALONE
‘CAUSE I’M ACQUAINTED WITH THE WIND AND ME AND HIM
KEEP TRAVELIN’ ALONG
NO SHELTER FROM THE STORM NO PILLOW FOR MY HEAD
‘CEPT FOR MAYBE MY ARM
BUT I’M SLEEPIN’ LIKE THE DEAD NO CEILIN’ BUT THE SKY
AND HERE I LIE
AND IN THE MORNIN’ I’LL BE GONE
WHENEVER I PLEASE
I’M HOWLIN’ LIKE A GALE
I’M WHISPERIN’ LIKE A BREEZE I’M ACQUAINTED WITH THE WIND AND I RECKON THAT IT’S HIM THAT’S CARRYIN’ ME
I’M THE RAMBLIN’ KIND
NO MATTER WHERE I ROLL EVERYBODY STANDS ASIDE
LETS ME RUMBLE DOWN THE ROAD AINT GOT A LOT OF FRIENDS
BUT I’M ACQUAINTED WITH THE WIND AND WE’RE TRAVELIN’ ALONG
———————
BABY’S JUST AS MEAN AS ME
(FEATURING ELEANOR WHITMORE)
SOMETIMES MY BABY LOCKS ME OUT
SHE STOMPS HER FEET AND SCREAMS AND SHOUTS BUT I KNOW WHAT THAT’S ALL ABOUT
MY BABY’S JUST AS MEAN AS ME
SOMETIMES MY MAN DON’T TREAT ME RIGHT SHAME THE WAY WE FUSS AND FIGHT
BUT I GIVE AS GOOD AS GET ALRIGHT MY BABY’S JUST AS MEAN AS ME
HE’S KIND OF LOUD AND ROUGH DRINKS WINE AND ALL THAT STUFF SOMETIMES I’VE HAD ENOUGH THEN HE SMILES
AND I RECKON I CAN STAY FOR AWHILE
YOU HEARD ‘EM SAY THAT LOVE IS BLIND ESPECIALLY THE PASSIONATE KIND
I DON’T HAVE TO APOLOGIZE
‘CAUSE MY BABY’S JUST AS MEAN AS ME
HARD TIMES THEY COME AND GO BUT SHE’S MINE AND I’M HER BEAU
IF YOU FIND SOME SCARS THAT SHOW NEVERMIND
‘CAUSE IT AINT NOBODY’S BUSINESS BUT MINE
——————
GAMBLIN’ BLUES
PAPA DON’T SHOOT NO DICE PAPA DON’T PLAY NO CARDS
PAPA DON’T SHOOT NO DICE HE DON’T PLAY NO CARDS HE SAY THE MONEY’S TIGHT
HE SAY THE TIMES ARE HARD
CAUGHT ME COMIN’ IN ONE NIGHT AFTER THE CLOCK STRUCK THREE
CAUGHT ME COMIN’ IN LAST NIGHT AFTER THE CLOCK STRUCK THREE YOU BEEN GAMBLIN’
YOU’LL BE THE DEATH OF ME
GAMBLED IN MEXICO GAMBLED IN NEW ORLEANS
GAMBLED IN MEXICO DOWN IN NEW ORLEANS PLAYED IN EVERY GAME
IN EVERY TOWN BETWEEN
BUT A GAMBLER AIN’T GOT NO FRIENDS WHENEVER HIS LUCK IS DOWN
GAMBLER AINT GOT NO FRIENDS WHEN HIS LUCK IS DOWN BUT WHEN HE’S RIDIN HIGH
THEY ALL HANG AROUND
—————
KING OF THE BLUES
THE DAY I WAS BORN THE MOON CROSSED THE SUN MAMA CRIED SWEET JESUS WHAT HAVE I DONE LORD HAVE MERCY ON MY UNFORTUNATE SON BEFORE I DREW MY SECOND BREATH MAMA KNEW
SHE’D JUST GIVEN BIRTH TO THE KING OF THE BLUES
AND ON THAT DAY SOMEWHERE SOMEBODY ELSE DIED ALONE IN A DARK ROOM AND NOBODY CRIED
‘CAUSE THERE CAN ONLY BE ONE AND I CAN’T BE DENIED OUTRIDERS TOLD EVERYBODY THE NEWS
THE KING IS DEAD LONG LIVE THE KING OF THE BLUES
I’M THE KING OF THE BLUES THIRTEENTH OF THE LINE THE FIRST OF MY NAME AND THE LAST OF MY KIND
ONE FOOT IN THE GRAVE AND ONE HAND ON THE HANDLE OF TIME DESCENDED DIRECTLY FROM ST. JOHN THE CONQUEROO
I’M THE HIGH PRIEST OF HEARTACHE AND THE KING OF THE BLUES
I’M A LOVER A FIGHTER A PROPHET A FOOL
THE KEEPER OF CONFIDENCES THE LORD OF MISRULE
A CONSUMMATE JACK­OF­ALL­TRADES OF THE DICKENSIAN SCHOOL BUT THEY AIN’T NEVER MADE NO LOVE I COULDN’T LOSE
I’M THE LAST WORD IN LONESOME AND THE KING OF THE BLUES
—————
Copyright & legal line:
C & P 2015 New West Records, LLC. 3723 W. Olive Ave., Burbank, CA 91505. All rights reserved. Unauthorized duplication is a violation of applicable laws.
Copyright & legal line for CD Imprint:
C & P 2015 New West Records, LLC. 3723 W. Olive Ave., Burbank, CA 91505. All rights reserved. Unauthorized duplication is a violation of applicable laws. SteveEarle.com NewWestRecords.com NW6328
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