Steve Earle

While Waylon, Willie, and company turned Nashville on its collective ear back in the Sixties and Seventies, they never opined as freely, wore their political posture so defiantly, or, for that matter, fully mirrored the outlaw persona quite like Steve Earle.

Setting a standard for alt-country insurgency, Earle established his renegade reputation with precedent-setting albums such as Guitar Town and Copperhead Road which, along with telling collaborations with roots-rock upstarts the Supersuckers and the V-Roys, and the occasional bluegrass flirtation, distanced him from the cowboy-hat crowd. Though he has been daringly defiant ever since, none of his pronouncements provoked as much outrage as his "John Walker's Blues" from 2002's Jerusalem, a paean to the American Taliban that had even his most devoted fans questioning his daring.

With that as a prelude, and given the current popularity of Bush-whacking tactics, Earle's latest audio assault, The Revolution Starts ... Now, is hardly surprising. Rush-released to the marketplace in time for the upcoming presidential election, it's his most overtly politicized effort yet, from the railings of the title track and its book-end reprise, to the unabashed vitriol spewed at the gatekeepers of the nation's airwaves via "F the CC." ("So fuck the FCC/Fuck the FBI/Fuck the CIA/Livin' in the motherfuckin' USA.") Similar in stance and as frighteningly compelling as "John Walker's Blues," "Rich Man's War" finds him transforming the first-person perspective of disillusioned soldiers into a rugged, world-weary hymn. "When will we ever learn/When will we ever see/We stand up and take our turn/And keep tellin' ourselves we're free," he cautions, drawing a parallel between U.S. enlistees and the Palestinian suicide bombers that's sure to fuel further ire. The spoken word "Warrior" echoes those sentiments: "Your sons, your daughters, your hopes, and your dreams/The cruel consequence of your conceit."

Surprisingly, the album has its lighter moments. "Condi Condi," a Calypso-flavored serenade on which he woos Condoleeza Rice ("People say you're cold, but I think you're hot"), provides some saucy satire. The wobbly "Thought You Should Know," and "Goin' Around," a tender back-porch serenade with America's real sweetheart Emmylou Harris, shows he hasn't lost his nerve, or his verve. When it comes to lobbing diatribes, Earle's aim is true.

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Lee Zimmerman