Earle has nailed other sounds before, from Train a Comin’ which was a flawless acoustic, bluegrass record to Exit O, an Americana boot-stomping, rocking and rolling classic. In the four decades of his legendary career, he’s always evoked a passion and appreciation for great American music and now that he’s paying homage to the blues, he’s pretty much rounded all the bases.
Terraplane immediately displays two primary musical motifs. First, you’ve got a bunch of solid roadhouse hip-swinging numbers, which are mostly electric tracks. These probably sound the most different from anything else in Earle’s canon. The songs employ his (now) trademark gruff vocals but they separate themselves with the addition of a sweet, yet dirty harmonica and meaty eight-bar blues riffs. Just give the album opener “Baby Baby Baby (Baby)” a listen.
The Dukes are really holding down the rhythm section on these tracks. The bass line is going for a walk while the drums gyrate in a low, slow rhythm. These songs sound like you just pulled into a highway bar on a hot summer night for some ice cold beers and maybe a little bit of dancing if you’re listening to “Go Go Boots Are Back” or fighting if you pick up the badass ballad “King of the Blues.”
The second theme of Terraplane sounds more like the classic folksy side of Steve Earle. These songs are bluesy, sure but they’re acoustic and employ some ridiculously good finger-picking melodies that kick up the breeze on the old front porch. It’s a sound that suggests that Earle’s time working on Treme has had a positive effect on him and that his newfound love of New Orleans will be a longstanding influence on his sound.
“Ain’t Nobody’s Daddy Now” and “Gamblin’ Blues” exemplify his take on bayou blues with that finger pluck and drum brush playing up to Earle’s rhythmic phrasing which never seems to put hard times above toe-tapping.
“Baby’s Just as Mean as Me” is a timeless throwback duet with Eleanor Whitmore that sounds like it could fit perfectly on the closing credits of a Boardwalk Empire episode. Maybe Earle had been watching a lot of HBO lately. Who knows? What I do know is that Steve Earle & The Dukes go big on Terraplane, plumbing the deep waters of the blues to make a record that is both reverent and inventive. Sure, this isn’t so much like classic Earle but it’s definitely up there among his classics.
Another great record from one of the greats.
1. Baby Baby Baby (Baby)
2. You’re The Best Lover That I Ever Had
3. The Tennessee Kid
4. Ain’t Nobody’s Daddy Now
5. Better Off Alone
6. The Usual Time
7. Go Go Boots Are Back
8. Acquainted With The Wind
9. Baby’s Just As Mean As Me
10. Gamblin’ Blues
11. King Of The Blues