Steve Earle, Jerusalem

Rob O'Connor

By Rob O'Connor

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

As he grows older, Steve Earle grows more responsible. The young hell-raiser without a cause has transformed into a modern-day Woody Guthrie — still raising hell, but only if he can also raise consciousness along with it. The centerpiece of Jerusalem is "John Walker's Blues," Earle's unblinking human portrayal of "American Taliban" John Walker Lindh that walks in the confused shoes of Lindh's destiny. But while this swaggering blues is the album's most controversial track, that doesn't mean Earle pussyfoots through the rest — even if there is a love song here (the rallying, never-sappy heart-cry of "Go Amanda"). It's Earle's growing frustration with the ever-widening gulf between the have-mores and the have-nots — songs like "Amerika v. 6.0 (The Best We Can Do)" and "What's A Simple Man to Do" say it well — and his foreboding feeling that America is on a dangerous path ("Ashes to Ashes," "Conspiracy Theory") that fuels the anger and sadness of his best songs and bring his sturdy, traditional melodies to life.