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Review: Steve Earle revisits his roots in all the best ways

Associated Press logo Associated Press 6/13/2017 By SCOTT STROUD, Associated Press
This cover image released by Warner Bros. Records shows, "So You Wannabe An Outlaw," by Steve Earle. (Warner Bros. Records via AP) © The Associated Press This cover image released by Warner Bros. Records shows, "So You Wannabe An Outlaw," by Steve Earle. (Warner Bros. Records via AP)

Steve Earle and the Dukes, "So You Wannabe An Outlaw" (Warner Bros.)

Steve Earle bills his new album as the philosophical heir to "Guitar Town," and the DNA connecting it to that landmark 1986 record can't be missed. Texas-born and Nashville-raised, at least musically, Earle reconnects with his roots in all the best ways.

Earle has ranged around musically for three decades without losing his ability to nail a great song. During that time he has arguably written the definitive song on the death penalty ("Billy Austin"), America's economic divide ("Down Here Below") and Middle East peace ("Jerusalem"), among other masterpieces, all without losing his bearings.

Now he goes back to Texas to revive the muscular style he modeled on Waylon Jennings and other legendary outlaws. But he sounds, as always, like nobody but ... Steve Earle.

The journey back is as good as anything he's put out in a decade or more.

Earle is backed on the album once again by the Dukes, the rocking little combo that supported much of his best work and delivers in fine form here. Miranda Lambert, Willie Nelson and Johnny Bush make appealing cameos.

The capstone is "Goodbye Michelangelo," a poignant tribute to Guy Clark, a fellow Texan and songwriting mentor to Earle and many others, who died in May.

Earle at his best rocks intensely, fearlessly confronts inner demons and wears his heart on the outside. This album, full of flaming arrows from a seemingly limitless quiver, does it all with gusto.

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