Steve Earle – I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive (Music Review)

I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive cover

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

“Was a time I would of said them days was gone, but I’m givin’ it another whirl”, sings Steve Earle at the opening of I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive. And he is – this album is a return to form for a singer-songwriter who has been frustratingly unfocused of late. The sticker on the CD cover emphasizes this, announcing it as the “first album of new songs in four years”, glossing over the recent live and cover albums. (You’d need to go back seven years, to The Revolution Starts Now, to find his last truly good album.)

As is tradition for Earle, that title track is one of the album standouts and sets the theme for the songs that follow. In this case, “Waitin’ On The Sky” is a personal look back on his life, and introduces a collection of songs loosely about mortality and endings. This is a turn from the more overtly political songs that made up his strongest output in the past decade. Earle only approaches politics in a couple songs: “The Gulf of Mexico” portrays the recent oil spill through the eyes of blue-collar oil workers who know no other way of life, and “God Is God” explains that only a fool would claim to speak for God or know His intent. They seem perfectly harmless and self-evident, but it’s part of Earle’s genius that he can make the claims he does in the conservative language of traditional songs. Most songwriters would have stumbled horribly when hinting at the way large corporations destroy traditions or implying that God is distant from our daily life.

Those political songs are few, though, and the everyman folksiness pervades the entire album. Earle is a countrified version of Springsteen, with a raspy, blues-infused edge that producer T. Bone Burnett brings to the surface here. As a reassuring, traditional Steve Earle album, the review could easily be lifted from one of his past albums: Murder ballad “Molly-O” is an original, but sounds like it must have been a traditional song that was somehow overlooked before. The storytelling songs (“I Am A Wanderer” and “Lonely Are The Free”, along with the opener) showcase Earle’s strengths, while the love songs (like “Every Part Of Me”) are decent but never the highlights. The expected male-female duet, “Heaven or Hell”, is a little weaker than normal – the song needs a little more emotion to sell the claim “I just can’t tell [if] this kinda love comes from Heaven or Hell”. Then there is a half-successful experiment, in this case “Meet Me In the Alleyway”. It’s got a great sound reminiscent of Tom Waits doing Louisiana blues, but its story about dark New Orleans magic is uninteresting.

No songs are bad, though, and every one feels like it has a place on this album. The lesser ones only earn that description next to the frankly stunning standouts. Don’t worry about Steve Earle’s recent missteps; After a 25-year career, I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive still sounds like the work of a musician in his prime.

Grade: B+

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