Sunday, July 17, 2011

Steve Earle soldiers on

By Mike Tierney

You can eschew Steve Earle, from his potpourri of musical stylings to, as the greybearded one himself put it Friday, his "pinko" world view.

But you cannot help but admire him. A recovering heroin addict with a prison record and numerous failed marriages behind him, Earle, 56, is an enduring pro's pro -- never mailing it in, live or in the studio.

Typical of the current tour, Earle and his band delivered 30-something songs at the Atlanta Botanical Garden that spanned two hours, 45 minutes (including an intermission) and put his considerabily music range on full display. (For his tour schedule click here.)

Regrettably, he has released his foot somewhat off the rock 'n' roll pedal, but that is to be expected of an aging troubador recently married to bandmate Allison Moorer and toting around their 15-month-old son on the tour bus.

Also regrettably, Earle has always hewed closely in concert to the recorded versions of songs, thus preventing his enjoyable performances from becoming memorable by altering their arrangements.

Still, attendees know they will get ample doses of blues, bluegrass, country, toe-tapping pop and balls-to-the-wall rock, all in one sitting.

To keep it fresh, Earle is properly pumping out several cuts from his new CD, I'll Never Get Out Of This World Alive, most of them in the opening set.

The evening moves at a moderate pace until the main man puts away his acoustic guitar and mandolin and plugs in the electric toward the end. You almost wish he had cranked it up earlier. But, when the final notes are hit, your ears are ringing.

Another certainty with Earle: The audience can count on a gifted supporting band. Besides Moorer, who blessed the gathering with three of her own numbers, he was flanked by guitarist Chris Masterson, late of the sublime band Son Volt.

Earle cannot resist sharing his take on politically driven news. Not should he clam up. Wisely, though, in these divisive times, he has toned down his rhetoric between songs and allowed their lyrics to convey his mindset.

Earle might be nearing a line that all long-timers approach: He has written so many songs that some start to sound alike. Yet concert-goers depart with a variety of tunes bouncing around in their brains. Give them nearly three-dozen selections, almost all of them solid, and they will find plenty to like and remember.

At the end of the day (or night), that's what a live show is all about.

Mike Tierney, a big-time correspondent for The New York Times and other worldy publications, gets more feedback for his musings at the Sanctuary.

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