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Steve Earle: I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive 

We fall into habits that, if continued long enough, can become caricature. Steve Earle never got that far, but his angry, politicized country-rock was growing predictable by 2007's Washington Square Serenade, where simple musings on love and longing were the superior tracks. I'll Never Get Out is a well-timed return to his roots. It's an acoustic album with a dusty, spacious Texas vibe and a slow-clicking snare like a boot spur in producer T Bone Burnett's arid production. It's as ruminative as your front porch at twilight, a cold Lone Star between your legs. It's a surprisingly humble, austere album from a guy known for his brashness. The showstopper is the pretty, gently strummed, "Lonely Are the Free," a lovely meditation on our togetherness and separateness, in which Earle observes that "strong are the silent." From the shanty-style "The Gulf of Mexico" to supple Cold War ode "Waitin' On the Sky" and the cello-abetted folk of "I Am A Wanderer," Earle's return to traditional storytelling comes in an eclectic range of American roots approaches. The album is a terrific effort reminding us Earle was a storyteller before he was a provocateur, and he was pretty damn good at it.

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January 12, 2022

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