We last heard from hardcore troubadour Steve Earle in 2015 with Terraplane, a generally successful incursion into blues terrain. He returns to more familiar ground with So You Wannabe an Outlaw, an album reuniting him with former label Warner and producer Richard Bennett.
There seems to be more at stake with this record, as evidenced by Earle recruiting Willie Nelson and Miranda Lambert for guest turns. Earle has termed the record an homage to the late Waylon Jennings and the outlaw country sound that inspired him early on, and that's reflected on the opening title track, one featuring Nelson trading verses then dueting with Earle. Other cuts draw upon country, folk and rock elements, with his ace band the Dukes making fine contributions. Fiddle and steel figure prominently, giving the general sound more of a retro feel than the rousing guitar-heavy stylings of some earlier albums, though that boisterous approach is evident, too, on "If Mama Coulda Seen Me" and "Fixing To Die." Earle is in strong voice throughout, revealing real tenderness on "News from Colorado," "The Girl on the Mountain" and "Goodbye Michelango," a farewell elegy to a friend.
The prime disappointment here is the quality of the songwriting, with Earle far too often resorting to cliché and easy rhymes. For instance, "This Is How it Ends" has such lines as "two hearts beating like a single drum," and a love "flowing like a river on and on." On "Sunset Highway," there is "darkness on the edge of town." Get the drift?
There's plenty here for Earle's faithful fans to enjoy, but this is definitely a notch below the consistently high calibre of earlier classic Earle albums like Guitar Town, Copperhead Road and I Feel Alright. (Warner)