I love Steve Earle—that is, the old Steve Earle, the badass commie country singer last heard from in 2004 with his snarlingly funny album The Revolution Starts Now (and its deathless "F the CC": "I can say anything I wanna say/ So fuck the FCC/Fuck the FBI/Fuck the CIA/Livin' in the motherfuckin' USA"). Since then, Earle moved from Nashville to New York and seemed to lose that ferocious thread. Now he's got a new album, I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive, and there's really but one thing I want to know: Is the ballsy Earle back?
Alive starts promisingly with the upbeat but slight "Waitin On The Sky" and Earle in his usual fine vocal form, that nasal Texas twang foremost. Trouble is, it doesn't seem to rev from there. We get a nice, subtly angry, neo-Appalachian ballad about last summer's BP extravaganza, "The Gulf of Mexico," and Earle redundantly channeling Tom Waits on "Meet Me In the Alleyway," but where's the piss and vinegar? No doubt we ought to all be happy for the wiser, gentler Steve Earle, on "God Is God," among other cuts; but I can't help feeling his peace is my loss. Could somebody please poke him?