Sunday, July 05, 2020

Steve Earle - 'Union, God and Country'

The expression 'a return to form' is a music reviewer's standard cliché. But for me Steve Earle had gone off the boil a little in recent years. He's one of my all-time favourite writers and performers, I've seen him solo at least twice, and one awesome night at the Ulster Hall with the Del McCoury Band in support of their 1999 joint Appalachian bluegrass album 'The Mountain', all in three piece suits and a single microphone. He's literally back in that territory again - musically, lyrically and geographically -  with his new album Ghosts of West Virginia.

I love Appalachia in so many ways, having been there four times, and am acutely aware of how the people there have so often been scapegoated, maligned and scorned by the 'metropolitan illiberal élites'. The introduction to this song is great - stoutly defending the ordinary people of West Virginia to his fashionable Californian audience. He says "We are not going to stop this nightmare by believing that everyone who voted for Donald Trump is an a****** or a racist - because it's simply not true." Earle's voice goes very much against the grain of the lazy, orthodox, élite media narratives. He sees the intrinsic value of the people.

The title and the lyrical content of this song are powerful representations of a worldview in which to be working class, to practice faith, and to love your country all sit very comfortably together - a combination which those élites (still) can't understand.


Here he is playing the 'hillbilly murder ballad' Carrie Brown with the Del McCoury Band in 1998 - this was on the soundtrack of our family Appalachian road trip in 2016. My sons and I play it on guitar, mandolin and six string banjo now and again. I can just about hit the high notes!