Steve Earle - Jerusalem
When Johnny Cash sung "I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die" or Woody Guthrie sang Pretty Boy Floyd, few seemed to bat an eyelid - however when Steve Earle released John Walker's Blues - a reflexion of what could have driven John Walker Lindh to join the Taliban- DJs were calling for him to be tried for treason and refusing to play his songs anymore (not that they ever did). Whether Earle was aiming for this reaction is rather debatable - despite being oft seen as a "Country" artist, he's never made his left-leaning sympathies known, be it in his opposition to the death penalty or criticism of America's foreign policy.
Still it's a shame that that controversy probably took the focus away from the album itself: this is without doubt a fine return to form for Earle, breaking out of his cycle of good-but-not-great albums. Opening with the apocalyptic Ashes To Ashes, the tone is set - Earle's voice sounds as great as ever, rough, powerful and angry whilst the guitars are much heavier than usual and the drums pound the message out. What's A Simple Man To Do - the story a maquiladora worker who finds himself on the wrong side of the law -, Amerika v.6.0 and Conspiracy Theory stick with with the overall political tone but other songs such as Shadowland or I Remember You featuring Emmylou Harris serve as a reminder that Earle can write great songs with no political content, since his troubled personal life seems to offer enough to draw from.
Musically, the album comfortably straddles genres, moving from heavy(ish) rock (Ashes, Amerika) to the more acoustic sounds of John Walker's Blues or The Truth, Earle manages to fuse them all together and keep a consistent tone to the whole proceedings. If one had to find a flaw in the album, it would probably be the inclusion of Go Amanda (co-written with Sheryl Crow) that seems to stand out too much from the other songs both lyrically and musically.
Closing with the topical Jerusalem, the album ends on a more optimistic note than one would expect. Having wished that Woody Guthrie would return to save America a few years back, Earle seems to have almost become the answer to his own prayers - a must buy.