Now in his 20th year as a recording artist, Steve Earle is one of America's most acclaimed and respected singer-songwriters. He is also one of the most prolificand the latest result of his prodigious creative efforts is Sidetracks, a new 13-song collection comprised of previously unreleased numbers, music from film soundtracks, and unheard alternate versions.
"With the exception of two instrumentals," Steve explains, "these are not outtakes. They are, rather, stray tracks
that I am very proud of and that are either unreleased or underexposed."
Leave it to Steve Earle to unleash one of the most off-the-wall odds 'n' sods collections ever; it's also, by the way, one of the most satisfying. Except for two plucky instrumentals originally meant for Transcendental Blues
, there are no outtakes here, just a batch of movie-soundtrack songs, demos, live takes, and previously unreleased tracks. They include the inspired, revelatory "Me and the Eagle" (from The Horse Whisperer
); the credible white-boy reggae "Johnny Too Bad" with the V-Roys
; a churning remake of Nirvana
's "Breed"; a storming, camp-free duet with Sheryl Crow
on the Chambers Brothers
' psychedelic period piece "Time Has Come Today"; and a demo of "Ellis Unit One" with the Fairfield Four
that sounds like a field recording made inside the prison walls. It all hangs together to rank this among Earle's finest albums. --John Morthland