Steve Earle Sidetracks

Earle's last batch of albums have already been rag-tag collections, so this compilation of recent soundtrack work, covers and collaborations shouldn't seem at all out of character for avid fans. But what Sidetracks perhaps lacks in Earle's usual consistency it makes up for in a different kind of passion born out of spontaneity. After opening with three fine originals, unfortunately penned for bad movies, the album really gets interesting with his by now well-known versions of the reggae classic "Johnny Too Bad," Nirvana's "Breed" and the Supersuckers' "Creepy Jackalope Eye." Combine these with some rousing Irish/bluegrass workouts - a previously unheard version of the Burrito Brothers' "My Uncle" is particularly outstanding - and the true worth of Earle's musical scope is fully revealed. Perhaps most other singer/songwriters don't have the confidence to move among a wide variety of genres like Earle seems to do without giving it a second thought. Whatever the case, as long as he is willing to take chances, his albums will be worth hearing. On Sidetracks, you can hear him take more chances than ever before, and even when he occasionally stumbles, it's never less than enjoyable. (E-Squared)