Album of the Week

Album of the Week

Terraplane was a make and model of automobiles manufactured by the Hudson Motor Car Company in the 1930s.

The popular town and country car also inspired Robert Johnson’s famous “Terraplane Blues.” Using the vehicle as a thinly veiled metaphor for sex, Johnson observes that the Terraplane just won’t start, leading him to suspect his girlfriend let another man drive it when he was away.

As it so happens, Johnson recorded the tune in San Antonio, TX, just miles from where Steve Earle was born and raised.

As its title suggests, Earle’s new album is very much a blues record, harkening back to his Texas roots.

Of Texas’ blues history, Earle says, “There was Fort Worth where the model was Freddy King, and there was the Houston scene which was dominated by Lightnin’ Hopkins. Two very different styles.” Earle saw both of these giants in his youth, and was also exposed to Johnny Winter, Jimmy and Stevie Ray Vaughn, and Billy Gibbons, all of whom had their influence on Earle’s now-legendary storytelling.

In the liner notes, Earle writes, “…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).”

He continues, “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.”

The album features Earle’s longtime band The Dukes, comprised of Kelly Looney, Will Rigby, Chris Masterson and Eleanor Whitmore. The album was produced by R.S. Field (Buddy Guy, John Mayall), engineered by Earle’s longtime production partner Ray Kennedy and recorded at House of Blues Studio D in Nashville, TN.

In the event of Terraplane, his 16th studio effort, we felt compelled to take an extra look back at Steve Earle’s three-decade career.

In the seminal documentary film, Heartworn Highways, there’s a scene capturing a 1975 Christmas Eve jam at Guy Clark’s house. Around the bottle-filled table we see, amongst others, Clark, Rodney Crowell and a young Steve Earle rambling on with “Stay a Little Longer.”

The film itself masterfully captures the outlaw country scene in the mid’-70s, with this late night drunken glimpse introducing many to a new talent in that circuit (even though the movie wasn’t released in theaters until a couple of years later).

Only 19 years old at the time, Earle was a fledgling of a songwriter in Nashville.

He released his first EP in 1982, followed by his proper debut in 1986. Guitar Town immediately made him one of the biggest and most radical stars in country music.

What followed was a varied array of releases including the biting hard rock of Copperhead Road (1988), the minimalist beauty of Train A Comin’ (1995), the politically charged masterpiece, Jerusalem (2002), and the Grammy Award winning albums The Revolution Starts…Now (2004), Washington Square Serenade (2007) and Townes (2009).

His songs have been recorded by Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris, Waylon Jennings, Travis Tritt, The Pretenders, Joan Baez and countless others.

We honor one the greatest singers and songwriters of the last 30 odd years with this playlist, where we try to capture some of his spirit and his legacy. Beginning with his own mentor Townes Van Zandt, and back again, here are some of his outlaw peers, as well as guest appearances, covers, family, friends and admirers. And as it’s always been, it’s all “for the sake of the song.”

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