Steve Earle Credit: Mark Humphrey

Steve Earle opens his latest album, So You Wannabe an Outlaw (Warner Brothers), with a cautionary tale that asks listeners considering his outsider path to think twice. If anyone can offer such warnings, it’s Earle, whose anti-Nashville posturing and copious substance abuse eventually landed him in jail. The title track features a cameo from fellow Texan Willie Nelson, one of Earle’s early inspirations and another singer who’s taunted mortality (and prison) for decades, but it’s Earle that sings, “Won’t nobody give a damn about you when you die / But the devil he comes for his due”—and while I’m pretty sure the singer is still alive, we get the point. Earle followed the original outlaw crew and fellow travelers like Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark by a generation, but he turned their megaphone up much louder, flexing his contrarian muscles for decades. It could all merit lots of eye rolling if he weren’t so consistent. In a recent story in the Guardian the seven-time divorcee savages ex-wife Allison Moorer for leaving him, but he also says of nearly all male mainstream country singers, “They’re just doing hip-hop for people who are afraid of black people”—he’ll take Kendrick Lamar. The new record is plenty strong, with a hearty dose of twang, masterfully driven home by the fiddle playing of Eleanor Whitmore and the woozy pedal steel of Ricky Ray Jackson. For every bit of over-the-top myopia he exhibits on something like “Fixin’ to Die,” he counters with the mordant wit of “Walkin’ in LA,” which basically explains that if walking is your sole mode of transport you’re fucked.   v

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