Born a stubborn cuss and bred a class-conscious populist, Steve Earle is not a man for whom political subtlety comes naturally. Yet the lefty outlaw's election-year special goes easy on the righteous defiance — the only straightforward protest anthem here, "F the CC," is a free-speech rant broad enough to gather all manner of libertarians under its tent. And the title track, which bookends the album, is a call to community-minded self-actualization that belies its brandishing of the "r" word. In fact, the most polarizing cut here is probably the leering calypso throwaway "Condi Condi" — either the hottest tune ever penned about a National Security Advisor or the dopiest, depending on how you respond to Earle's growled lechery.
Although Earle may initially seem more uniter than divider here, he's simply learned how to effectively understate his empathy for those screwed by the powerful. The easy CCR-style country shuffle of "Home to Houston" lightens its lyric, a hard-assed truck driver's admission of terror while stationed in Basra. And on "Rich Man's War," Earle grimly yet plainly follows the parallel paths of two down-on-their-luck everymen, one American and one Arab, as they're inexorably moved to their respective sides of the Middle East conflict.