Published Feb 18, 2015Steve Earle's 16th studio record, Terraplane, is being widely publicized as his divorce album; while divorce is not a new concept to Earle, making a blues record is. The veteran troubadour has previously put out albums in such diverse genres as bluegrass, hard-driving country-rock and folk, and has occasionally written tunes with a blues flavour. With the skilful assistance of his longtime comrades the Dukes and able production from R.S. Field (Webb Wilder, Buddy Guy, John Mayall), he concentrates on the genre here, with impressive results.
The album title suggests Robert Johnson, but Earle's eclectic tastes in the blues reflect the influence of everyone from Lightnin' Hopkins to Texas blues-rockers like ZZ Top and the Vaughan Brothers. The free-spirited and funny "Go Go Boots Are Back" has a psychedelic blues vibe, the short and snappy "Baby's Just As Mean As Me" and "Gamblin' Blues" sound like '30s country-blues, while killer cut "The Tennessee Kid," an album highlight, is a talking blues-style tune that references Johnson and has something of a dirty Bo-Diddley-meets-Billy-Gibbons edge to it. Rather than sounding maudlin and self-pitying here, Earle sounds energized by the marital split, even on the reflective "You're The Best Lover I Ever Had" and the stark and soul-baring "Better Off Alone," a tune loosely inspired by Kate McGarrigle's "Go Leave" and boosted by a superb guitar solo from Chris Masterson.
A couple of cuts here, "Baby Baby Baby (Baby)" and "Ain't Nobody's Daddy Now," fall in the forgettable filler category, but Earle's batting average here is high. You can bet the best tracks here will sound great live, too. In a line in the guitar grindin' album closer "King Of The Blues," he declares himself "a jack of all trades." To which we'd add, "and a master of many." (New West)