Except for the fact that it contains 12 brand-new songs, The Low Highway could almost be a retrospective of Steve Earle’s three-decades-and-counting career. His oeuvre encompasses country, folk, rock, bluegrass and protest music, and his superb new album represents all these facets with a loose-limbed assurance. Back in the saddle is Earle’s road band, the Dukes (who get an LP credit for the first time since 1987), amended to include “the Duchesses,” featuring vocalist Allison Moorer (a solo artist and Earle’s wife) and violinist/vocalist Eleanor Whitmore (comprising half of recording artists the Mastersons, along with Dukes guitarist Chris Masterson). Rounding out the rockin’ Dukes are drummer Will Rigby (the dBs) and bassist Kelley Looney. This family affair also boasts Earle’s co-producer Ray Kennedy, for the first time since 2004′s Grammy-winning The Revolution Starts Now.
Perhaps these reunions account for the pervasive swing in both the crunchy rock of “Calico County” and the chiming Merseybeat of “21st Century Blues.” Even the Lennon-y loneliness of “Invisible,” the gentle ache of the father-son ballad “Remember Me,” and the creeping menace of “Burnin’ It Down” carry an undercurrent of satisfaction, further evidence of a man still in his sweet spot.