Album Review of
So You Wannabe an Outlaw

Written by Mark Gallo
July 1, 2017 - 12:00am EDT
Review Rating Star Review Rating Star Review Rating Star Review Rating Star Review Rating Star

Steve Earle’s 16th album sees him with his long time band the Dukes (guitarist Chris Masterson, fiddler Eleanor Whitmore, bassist Kelley Looney and new bandmates -- drummer Brad Pemberton and pedal steel player Ricky Ray Jackson). It is notable, too, for co-vocalists Willie Nelson (So You Wannabe An Outlaw), Miranda Lambert (This Is How It Ends) and Johnny Bush (Walkin’ In LA).  Earle calls the album a tribute to Waylon Jennings. It just may be the Americana album of the year. The title cut with Willie sharing the vocals is a highlight, but not the only one. The album is top to bottom highlights. Lookin’ For A Woman (“won’t do me like you”) and Firebreak Line are rousers; News From Colorado, co-written with Allison Moorer and Emily Earle, is a sweet ballad with a bitter taste (“Brother stole another car they’re holdin’ him downtown/Sister’s tellin’ everyone he’s in the Army now/Mama only says the things that Saddy says she should/And news from Colorado’s never good”); and If Mama Coulda Seen Me, written for the TV show Nashville, is a rocker featuring fiddle and guitar. Fixin’ To Die reminds of a dark Beatles song with a country accent and a Dead Man Walking theme. This Is How It Ends co-written with Miranda Lambert is the most radio friendly song on the collection. The theme is a familiar one as they sing, “Turn around at how far we come from/Two hearts beatin’ like a single drum/You said you would never lie and I promised I’d never run…Guess I shoulda seen it comin’ from the start/Comes to love the fallin’ is the easy part.” The Girl on the Mountain is another gorgeous ballad, You Broke My Heart is a medium tempo swinger that brings back the fifties, and Walkin’ In LA, with Johnny Bush, is a pedal steel-driven piece that keeps it in the fifties. Sunset Highway is another radio-ready tune that could have worked on Earle’s debut album 30 years ago. He sings, “Tell the boys that I wish ‘em the best/But nothin’ ever lasts forever I guess/I’m rollin’ down a sunset highway.” The closer, Goodbye Michelangelo, is a sweet ballad dedicated to his musical mentor Guy Clark. Not a clinker in the bunch, the recommended tunes are This Is How It Ends, Sunset Highway and the title song.