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I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive
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109 of 122 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon April 26, 2011
Format: Audio CD
In the half-decade since Steve Earle moved from the Guitar Town to Greenwich Village, he has released three albums: one of original material, one composed entirely of covers of Townes Van Zandt songs (Earle's mentor, friend, and as described by Earle, "the best songwriter in the whole world"), and now this, his third NYC-era album and second of original material. For those of us who have followed Earle's albums, we know that with his move to Greenwich Village came an obvious change in the sound of Earle's music. On his 2007 release, "Washington Square Serenade (DIG)," (WSS) not only did he seemingly abandon (for the most part) much of the hard rock sound that had permeated many of his previous albums for a softer, more multicultural sound with occasional hip hop accents, but he also began to record using Pro Tools. The effects of the digital recordings were clear in the loops and beats throughout the album, and frankly, while I found the songs to be strong for the most part, I found the Pro Tools influence to be off-putting and disconcerting at times. Earle's 2009 release, "Townes," found him toning back the digital effects; while still present on certain songs, the album felt much more organic, helped in part by the inclusion in the album's deluxe edition of a second disc including Steve's bare guitar/vocal tracks. Now in 2011 Steve Earle has released "I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive," (INGOOTWA) an album of original songs that does away with the digital effects that were in his last two albums for once again a more natural, organic sound that resembles his pre-Pro Tools albums.

Country music fans may recognize the title of the album as the final single released in Hank Williams' lifetime, and Earle fans will know that he has a particular fondness for Williams, once proclaiming that even Hank Williams couldn't get played on country music stations nowadays (and that Earle's upcoming novel of the same name partially revolves around Hank Williams' ghost). Given that fondness and the album's title, it's no real surprise that INGOOTWA is probably the most country-tinged album that Earle has released in years. Keep in mind, however, that this is Earle's country, not necessarily Nashville hit radio country. Thus the songs have more of a traditional country sound, have more subdued and contemplative lyrics (not about big green tractors or honky tonk badonkadonks), and, just like Hank Williams' songs(!), aren't incredibly likely to be found in frequent rotation on your favorite country station. The songs openly explore themes of life, death, and struggle, from the multigenerational autobiography (not really) of "Gulf of Mexico" to the tale of an outlaw robbing, killing, and dying all for the love of his "Molly-O" to the religious notes of "God is God" to the harrowing "Meet Me in the Alleyway" (take a guess) to the lamentations of "Lonely are the Free" and the ode to New Orleans "This City," featured in season 1 of HBO's fantastic series Treme (where Earle also has a recurring role as a local musician) and nominated for both a Grammy and an Emmy. Earle's penchant for telling great stories pervades INGOOTWA like the stories that Williams himself used to tell in his songs. The styles of INGOOTWA's songs vary widely, from fiddle-inflected country to Celtic jaunt to backalley blues to Earle's characteristic finger-picked ballads to the horn-accented, acoustic-based album closer. Make no mistake, though; at the core of each song is a country sound, as this album again puts itself up with "Guitar Town," "Train A Comin'," and "The Mountain" as one of Earle's purest country albums.

However, because it is only Earle's second album of original songs since moving to NYC, and because there was such a dramatic shift in his music after he made that move, INGOOTWA bears some comparison to the "Washington Square Serenade" release. Despite its status (in my opinion) as being one of the most country-influenced albums in Earle's catalogue, the songs on INGOOTWA do sound familiar at times. "Molly-O" bears some resemblance to "Oxycontin Blues," while the harmonica punctuations of "Meet Me in the Alleyway" call to mind those of "Red is the Color" and the mood and sound of "Every Part of Me" sound influenced by "Come Home to Me." The quality of the songs I'd say is about on par between the two albums, although there is no song on INGOOTWA as ridiculously catchy as "Steve's Hammer (for Pete)" (the closest would be "Gulf of Mexico") and no song as unbelievably beautiful as "Days Aren't Long Enough." The closest, I think, is "Lonely are the Free," which isn't a good comparison because it's not a duet. The duet on the album between Earle and his wife Allison Moorer, "Heaven or Hell," is good, but pales next to Days... if you ask me. "Little Emperor" is, however, a great foot stomper all on its own. Some of these songs have been heard elsewhere as well: "This City" (aforementioned), "God is God" and "I am a Wanderer" (both recorded already by Joan Baez, although written by Earle; the latter is another beautiful standout track), and "Lonely are the Free" (previously used in the film Leaves of Grass). The difference between the two albums, however, and this makes a big difference, is that as I mentioned INGOOTWA does not have an obvious digital sound to it. I don't find myself noticing drum loops and effects on INGOOTWA as I do on WSS, mainly because they aren't there, or if they are they aren't anywhere near as obvious. Instead the T. Bone Burnett-produced album feels like an organic album played by real musicians with minimal alterations, which will make an enormous difference to some people. And as I also said, there is a definite theme to the album. Whereas WSS sounded more like a collection of Steve Earle songs, INGOOTWA sounds more like a cohesive Steve Earle album, and both the album and the listener benefit because of that.

My overall verdict on the album is this: if you buy anything Steve Earle puts out, you're going to buy this anyway, so buy it and enjoy it. If you liked his sound on WSS, the songs themselves are written in many ways in a similar manner; they just don't have a Pro Tools influence way up in front. Contrarily, if you hated the sound of WSS, give this a try, because the Pro Tools sound of WSS is gone on this release. Is this album as good as Earle's pre-NYC releases? In my opinion it's not, at least as concerns "Transcendental Blues" and earlier. However, the man has been writing and playing his own songs since the `70s, and to still put out an album this strong is an impressive feat indeed. My opinion? Buy this album. Steve Earle is an artist who still puts a great deal of passion into his songwriting and his craft, writing and recording what he wants, not what he thinks people want to hear from him or what people ask him to record. That takes guts, the same kinds that are on display in "I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive."
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30 of 33 people found the following review helpful
on April 26, 2011
Format: Audio CD
Steve Earle's I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive is his first release of all-original material since 2007's Washington Square Serenade; it is arguably his best collection of material since 2003's Jerusalem. It is a mostly subtle and quiet effort, but even Earle's quiet music has a forward lean to it. It is, by far, his most country-sounding album since his 1998 bluegrass outing, The Mountain.

There are several high points on this disc, songs that will stand with the best of Steve Earle's creations. The opener, "Waitin' on the Sky," is a sprightly number where Earle revisits his life and some of his common themes (I love Allison Moorer, I didn't think I'd still be alive) without sounding tired, redundant, or smug. "God is God" is a statement of faith and belief somewhat similar to Waylon Jennings' "I Do Believe," a song he performed with the Highwaymen. "Meet Me in the Alleyway" has a sinister, Tom Waitsian feel along with some yowling harmonica courtesy of Earle. And, "The Gulf of Mexico" showcases Earle's impressive gift for narrative and detail. Musically, it wouldn't sound out of place on a Pogues album; it may be the best song on the album.

T Bone Burnett produced this disc. Most of the time, his touch is light and benefits the music. However, he does sometimes let the sound get a little bottom-heavy. Earle is an eclectic performer at home with folk, country, blues, bluegrass, gospel, and rock. With that in mind, more diversity in the sound of this album would have been appreciated.

Overall, this is a fantastic disc that should appeal to Earle's fan base. It is good enough to possibly win him some new fans, as well. Recommended.
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on May 3, 2011
Format: Audio CD
There are no songs on this album that equal Steve's masterpieces, like "Goodbye," but it is still the best overall album since Jerusalem, in my opinion. The songs are consistently good, with the musical range fans expect from Steve. Not much of the rock'n'roller Steve, though "Gulf of Mexico" is a great Pogues style blend of folk and rock, and "Heaven and Hell" has a rock vibe. I particularly like his dabbling with a bit of old New Orleans jazz on "This City," and would love to see him do more with the Preservation Hall band, as someone else here said.

I have read several professional reviews of the album, and find it interesting that there seems to be little agreement about the best and worse songs. For instance, I have seen "Every Part of Me" and "Waiting on the Sky" panned and praised. This probably reflects the lack of any one song that blows folks away, but also that any one reviewer likes different aspects of Steve's work. I also think his best songs musically here are not necessarily his best lyrically, and vice versa.

I was a little worried about T-Bones' production, which I don't always care for, but his arrangements are wonderful with space for Steve to be Steve. The album sounds great. From what Steve says in the documentary on the deluxe album, they recorded mostly live, which probably helped keep it real.

If I were comparing this album to Steve's other work, it would be 4/5, but compared to what else is out there it's a 5/5. And by the way - Steve's new book is great!
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19 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on April 30, 2011
Format: Audio CDVerified Purchase
I have loved Steve since the mid 80's. I would anxiously await his next release and have never been let down until his last trubute CD. I decided to give him a pass on that sleeper because he was paying homage to his long time influence. So when this new CD came out, I was stoked for some new original material! OH MAN!!! This CD is boring. Nothing sounds unique and it seems that Steve is tired and worn. The songs are basically mixes of all his older and slower tunes, blended together to create "new" material. I just listened to it 5 times in a row and while a few grow on you, they are just weak. This CD will easily get lost in my collection and not likely be played often. I think I am gonna go put on some Copperhead Road and follow it up with I Feel Alright...that should do me!
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on April 28, 2011
Format: Audio CD
I am on my fourth or fifth listen of this recording, and it just keeps getting better and better. If you own only a few, or many of his records, then you need to have this one. I think this is on the level of Corazon. You just have to give it some time. Relax. Don't try to compare this to that. Just enjoy the songs.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on July 28, 2011
Format: Audio CD
Well, Steve has done it again. He has reinvented himself yet again. This time however he has moved into an area that seems to be without the strong emotional base that have always permeated his other work. I would almost call this album whimsical. Nothing on this album stirs any feeling, it plays like background music.

I would guess that this is a reflection of Steve's mood these days, he is in a happy place for him. I am very happy for him personally and I am glad he is personally at peace. I however like the "angry" Steve Earle sound.

That being said, this is still better than much out there and hard core fans will want it to complete their collections. The nice thing is Steve will likely reinvent himself again next album. Something will tick him off and his emotions will pour themselves into his work.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on February 21, 2013
Format: Audio CDVerified Purchase
Worth every cent to have in your collection if you enjoy good crafted music. Another must have from this out of the mainstream performer/songwriter.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on January 24, 2013
Format: MP3 MusicVerified Purchase
This cd is the standard for all other artists to follow in terms of capturing Southern blues. He is our generation's master.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on September 26, 2011
Format: Audio CDVerified Purchase
Steve Earle's music and lyrics have always been an inspiration to me. He is an incredibly powerful writer and has always been one to "not go with the flow". He has made his music his way! "I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive" is no exception. In short, there's a lot of good stuff on this record but it really, to me, lacks any intensity. In other words, HE DOESN'T ROCK ENOUGH! This album is definitely a bit of a let-down after "Washington Square Serenade" but still worth the price of admission.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on July 27, 2011
Format: Audio CD
I have to admit, this far down the road, I wasn't in a hurry to go get another Steve Earle album, and I find myself very pleasantly surprised; delighted even. A big shout-out to T-Bone Burnett here. I love the sound of this album a whole bunch. While Burnett mixed it in a manner that reminds me very slightly of Daniel Lanois, he brings a lot more variety of sounds and instrumentation. He is a good producer in that he finds the central strength of the songs and doesn't overwhelm them with "moody" production like Lanois sometimes does. Even on cheap speakers, it's wonderful how me mixes the sound of a "doghouse" upright bass as an anchoring piece of the rhythm section and slightly forward in the mix.
And that's just his part. Steve Earle writes terrific songs for T Bone to work with. I am not sure I can agree with some who found this boring, as I've listened to it more than any Steve Earle album since Jerusalem. It just keeps getting better. As others have said, for a guy who's been in the biz for nearly 30 years, to deliver such a solid set of songs is a tribute in itself. Steve may repeat themes explored in the past, but he brings new perspective to them as well. With Burnett's help, there's a warmth to the sound and I don't find myself re-programming the order of the songs either. Surprised, and delighted indeed.
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