2015 is shaping up to be a pretty big year for Steve Earle, with both a forthcoming memoir and his new record Terraplane, recorded with frequent collaborators The Dukes. Terraplane is an almost full-on foray into the blues, an area in which we know Earle is comfortable, but which we haven’t seen him delve this deep. And that is just what Terraplane is – deep and dark, the way good blues music should be.
The current lineup of The Dukes includes Earle favorites Chris Masterson and Eleanor Whitmore of The Mastersons (who released their own fantastic new record last year called Good Luck Charm), Kelly Looney and Will Rigby. Earle has a knack for assembling strong bands, and this is no exception. Rich harmonica and guitars fill each song, complimenting Earle’s authentic, perfected rasp so well.
Terraplane features a mostly driving style of blues, with steady, up-tempo percussion. Songs like “The Tennessee Kid”, a moody spoken word blues tune hits the ground running and maintains the same pace throughout, as does “You’re the Best Lover That I Ever Had” and the growling “Baby Baby Baby (Baby)”.
Still, the better moments of Terraplane are the fun, more country-skewing blues songs, like “Baby’s Just as Mean as Me”, a sweet and cheeky duet with Whitmore, and “Ain’t Nobody’s Daddy Now”, a fiddle-heavy number (with a hint of cowbell?). And there’s no shortage of rock-inflected blues here, too, like the addictive “Go Go Boots are Back”.
But don’t forget, even when he’s having a ball, Earle’s lyrics creep into dim territory, exploring the aftermath of infidelity and hard drinking. We can always count on him to bring us into the dark with him, whether or not we want to go. And most of the time, we’ll go anywhere he wants to take us.
Perhaps the darkest, but also a standout track on Terraplane is the heartbreaking “Better Off Alone”. Not fully a blues song, but not quite country either, this one is more like a slowed down rock and roll number. It’s a grim ode to pushing loved ones away, but it’s also so damn pretty, and classic Steve Earle. His voice is so full of pain, and the dusty sound might trick you into thinking you’re listening to an old 70s vinyl. And when that electric guitar comes in toward the end to add that touch of blues, it hits you hard. This one will stay with you, and deserves repeat listens. Steve Earle can craft a perfect country song, play killer rock and roll, and now we know for sure he has mastered the blues.