New West Records
Steve Earle says the blues run “so close to the bone that folks walk around every day with the blues as though it were perfectly natural for a human being to go on living.”
He ought to know, and not just from his life of hits and no hits, heroin and jail, divorces and estranged children.
Growing up in Texas, Earle was drawn early to the electric blues of Lightnin’ Hopkins, Freddie King, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Billy Gibbons.
That sound has colored Earle’s music from 1986’s “Guitar Town,” through “Copperhead Road,” “The Revolution Starts Now” and beyond.
But, on his 16th studio album, “Terraplane,” which takes its name from a Robert Johnson song, Earle goes all in on Texas blues.
“My little gal stands five feet ain’t/ I wanna hold her but I know I cain’t,” he sings in the chugging, foot-stomping opener.
His regular Dukes are here, including Eleanor Whitmore, who trades verses with Earle on one playful cut, and Chris Masterson, one of the finest young guitar players in Nashville.
Even with the battered, acoustic guitars, harmonica, fiddle and upright bass, the fuzzy electric guitars are never far away on cuts like “You’re the Best Lover That I Ever Had” and the lightly waltzing “Better Off Alone.”
“You ain’t never anything but blue/ And now you say you got somebody new,” Earle sings.
In the dark, swampy “Tennessee Kid,” Earle recasts the Crossroads story, with the “kid from the Cumberland” meeting Old Scratch in the middle of a thoroughfare.
“Somebody said ol’ Bob Johnson came down this way,” Earle hisses.
This is the album Earle was born to make and you can feel that on every cut.
The Lone Bellow
“Then Came the Morning”
They dress like it’s 1880 and sound like it’s 2010.
Brooklyn’s The Lone Bellow got into the folk-rock revival a little late, sliding in after the Kings of Leon, Mumford and Sons, The Lumineers and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros had already started repeating themselves.
On the follow-up to their self-titled debut album, the trio doesn’t mess with the formula one bit, blending mandolin with electric guitars, horns, pedal steel, sweeping gospel choruses and super-tight, three-part vocal harmonies.
It starts right away with the overwrought opening title cut, with its aching piano, swelling horns and lead singer Zach Williams squeezing blood from every note.
“Take my words/ Breathe them out like smoke/ Burn every single letter that I wrote,” he sings like its his last breath.
“Fake Roses” could pass for 1980s country radio, and the simple “Telluride” sounds like a Firefall B-side.
“If You Don’t Love Me” shifts to fuzzy guitar rock — “Can you tell me how a heart moves on” Williams pleads — while “Take My Love” swings for the rousing, sing-along “Born to Run”-sized anthem.
And then it’s back to sweet, little slow dancers like “Diners” and “Marietta.”
It’s all good, every bit of it. But, you’ve heard every note of it before, every vocal twitch and every soaring “Fault in Our Stars” death-scene soundtrack.
And Williams is a great singer; he just can’t help proving it on every cut. Give it a rest, brother. And, try pushing the band into a corner of folk-rock that hasn’t already been trampled to death.
“Nine Lives and Forty-fives”
Alive Naturalsound Records
Punk rock with 1970s glam guitars and horns is a nice combo, and there should be more of it.
And, nobody’s doing it better these days that the L.A. band Prima Donna.
On their new album, the foursome adds eight of their own songs to raw, thrashing covers of cuts like Blondie’s “Rip Her to Shreds” and Dwight Twilley’s “I’m On Fire.”
But, they hardly need to call on the oldies to get things jumping. Original tracks like the triple-speed “Tattooed Love Girls” and the Clash-ish “Living in Sin” are great send-ups. And, it gets better. “Like Hell” and “Rubbish,” with it Chuck Berry guitars and Clarence Clemons sax are pure old school rock ‘n’ roll.
“All the boys, all the girls, they all talk the same now,” Kevin Preston sneers.
Everyone but Prima Donna, that is.