Steve Earle is one of my musical heroes. For those unfamiliar, he’s a country/rock singer-songwriter who was on the leading edge of the “Alt Country” movement when he started recording back in the mid-1980′s. His career was derailed in the early 90′s by drug addiction and a brief stint in jail, but he emerged from that period to write and record some of his best albums, and proved himself to be one of the finest American songwriters around. I have all of his albums on CD, and I’m usually the first in line to buy new ones as they’re released. So you can imagine my surprise to recently learn that he’s had his own regular radio show since 2004. And not only that, but it looks like it’s been a podcast since at least October of last year. Now, I can forgive myself for not knowing about the radio show, since it only airs on Sirius, XM, and Air America stations, but how I’ve missed the podcast for so long, I’ll never know.
There’s a good description of the Steve Earle Show on the Air America website:
Weâ€™re the music show on Sunday night. We talk about politics, but the main thing weâ€™re about is playing music. And the main thing that we do is we invite people in to bring their records and play what theyâ€™re listening to or what they think we oughtta hear.
As the Air America affiliation might tell you, Steve’s politics are pretty liberal. He’s harsh critic of the war in Iraq and a long-time opponent of the death penalty, and he’s not afraid to write songs on the subjects. This makes him a rarity in the country music world and makes his music pretty much verboten on country radio stations. Yet he doesn’t come across as an angry radical on his show at all; in fact, just the opposite. The conversations are relaxed and casual, with a good sense of humor throughout. And don’t let his country leanings scare you away: the song choices on the show are very eclectic. For the musically open-minded, it’s a really good way to discover new bands.
This would be a five-star, highly recommended podcast but for one thing: the sound quality. Unfortunately, the show sounds like a recording of a Real Audio stream from 1999. This would be bad enough for a talk-only show, but it effectively kills the music listening experience. I’m guessing (hoping) that the actual radio show doesn’t sound this bad, and maybe the poor podcast quality is a requirement of the music industry for Internet distribution of the show. Or maybe a requirement of the satellite radio companies to encourage more paid subscriptions. Either way, it’s left me a lot less enthusiastic about the show than I should be. Sorry, Steve.
Anyway, I still recommend that you check it out. It’s still better than 99% of the podcasts out there.
If you’re new to Steve Earle, here is iTunes’ Steve Earle Essentials collection. It’s a good place to start. My favorite albums of his are I Feel Alright and Transcendental Blues, two more good places to start. If his voice has too much grit and twang for your tastes, Joan Baez does inspiring covers of his songs Jerusalem and Christmas In Washington on her latest live album.
Any other Steve Earle fans out there?