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Steve Earle – Guitar Town (1986)

January 17, 2018

[Album 589/1001]

When I saw this Steve Earle album title, I initially thought of Guitar Town as a destination.

How wrong I was.

For after listening, I’ve learned it’s more of a gateway.

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a) A gateway to rock (from country) or to country (from rock)

This, perhaps, shouldn’t have been entirely unexpected.

Given the album cover photograph (Canadian tuxedo, 5 o’clock shadow, unsmiling yet not frowning), at first glance, Steve shouldn’t cause offense to either the rock or country crowd.

By choosing the universally appreciated acoustic guitar as the instrument to sling over his back, rather than a more genre-specific instrument, such as a BC Rich Warlock or a Fender pedal steel (which might not be a terribly ergonomic thing to sling), again, he shouldn’t be ruled out by either crowd.

And if there’s such thing as a country rock continuum (which for the visual purposes of this post, there will be), some songs would fall under rock, others under country, and the rest in between.

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b) The missing link between Bryan Adams and Ryan Adams

I chose to include my rough sketch of the country-rock continuum because of my daughter’s hand-written question, “what does this mean?”

And I’m thrilled that I left my graph unattended on the kitchen counter because her written question led me to a delightfully surprising answer.

It appears that Steve Earle is the missing link between Bryan Adams and Ryan Adams.

Good Ol’ Boy (Gettin’ Tough) has all the hallmarks of a Bryan Adams tune, circa 1991.

The dropped ‘G’s (and parentheses) in the song name.

The song structure.Guitartown

I reckon if Mutt Lange got his paws on this tune and changed the setting on the drum track to ‘arena’, it would fit seamlessly into Waking Up The Neighbours

As for Ryan Adams?

A few of the Side B songs here, such as Someday and Fearless Heart, sound like early blueprints for a few of the tracks on Ryan’s 2001 album Gold.

Heck, that Ryan Adams album even a song named Somehow, Someday!

Though that album did not contain a song named Fearless Heart, I gather over his career, Ryan has written songs named Easy Hearts, Two Hearts, and She Wants to Play Hearts, in addition to the album Heartbreaker…so, close enough for jazz?

In any event, it looks like if you’re travelling along the Hillbilly Highway, and arrive in Guitar Town, there’s a fork in the road that I didn’t anticipate.

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Verbalize the Positive

Cheers to artists like Steve Earle that can bridge the gaps between genres & introduce fans to artists that they otherwise might have overlooked!

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From → 1980s

19 Comments
  1. I was looking for this as I seen it on social media and lo and behold BAM….
    I joined the masses in 88 when Copperhead Road went mainstream with the video on high rotation at MuchMusic…plus at the time I seen Earle wearing a Guns n Roses T..so I thought ok I need to check this out…
    Gettin Tough is a great track along with Fearless Heart as they both are on Earles 91 live album Shut and Die Like an Aviator which was recorded in Ladano’s back yard…
    Great call on Earle being the missing link between the two Adams. One being milk and cookies goodie rock(Bryan) while the other is the rebel (Ryan) and Earle is the outlaw!

    • Milk and cookies rock – Brilliant Deke!
      I haven’t seen the video, but that would have sold me too – Copperhead Road is a solid tune, I bet some country fans become rock fans thanks to that one.
      That live disc sounds promising!

    • Milk and Cookies Rock! Now officially a sub-genre. 🙂

  2. jprobichaud permalink

    Guitar Town. Sounds like a nice place to visit.

  3. I’ll hold out for the Mutt Lange arena rock remix. Until then, consider me deeply offended!

  4. “Steve Earle is the missing link between Bryan Adams and Ryan Adams.”

    Perhaps the greatest discovery in recent memory. Well done!

    • Some think it’s just a “B” missing in the first name – for some reason, the Steve Earle explanation made more sense to me, cheers Aaron!

      • I did a whole series of Earle’s records (in 2016, it seems), and I was in a mode of keeping it short, back then, but here’s my entire piece about this one:

        “Earle’s debut is a classic. Unimpeachable songwriting, and that realistic feel as he adheres as faithfully as he could to the way Nashville wanted this record (yet still doing his own thing), is unavoidable.

        It’s country through a real-life addiction hard times blues filter, true Americana via Bruce Springsteen and Townes Van Zandt, wide open highways across a nation feeding on its own issues like an ouroboros snake.

        Today’s CMT nitwits have wet dreams about making a record this solid.”

      • I had to look up ouroboros snake – but now that I have the visual, what a simile!

      • You are learning new things!

  5. I love this one. I know many will opt for Copperhead Road when it comes to early Earle, but I think everything here is perfect.

    • And I’ve yet to hear (the album) Copperhead Road in its entirety, if it’s at all comparable to this one, I think I’d be a fan!

      • Personally, I don’t think it’s half as good. A few great songs, but it’s a bit uneven and the second half tails off.

  6. One of those few country artists that I can bear to listen to. Good stuff!

  7. I love this album — I think it’s probably a good solid 9/10 for me though I haven’t gotten there yet. It’s interesting because it was considered his peak album for a long time (Copperhead Road just isn’t as consistent). Really only surpassed when he got out of jail and did I Feel Alright.

    • And beyond the song Copperhead Road, I’m not familiar with that record.
      This is one of those ones that doesn’t feel like a debut!

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