In the fourteen years since Steve Earle released his debut LP, Guitar Town, and carved “Dwight Yoakam Eats Sushi” into an elevator wall at MCA-Nashville, he has given a generation of songwriters the courage to buck the Nashville suits. But somewhere in Earle’s well-documented war with authority (a dollar for every “hell and back” profile of Music City’s most visible recovering drug addict would allow Betty Ford to retire), he developed into Nashville’s most consistently satisfying artist, a trend continued with Transcendental Blues. Highlights among the fifteen new Earle originals include “I Can Wait,” a Ferry-Cross-the-Mississippi, Merseybeat valentine, and “When I Fall,” a loving duet with his sister Stacey that contains no creepy, Kendalls undertone, just a promise between siblings to take care of each other. But don’t confuse “reliable” with “reformed.” Reacting to bluegrass patriarch Del McCoury’s criticism of his onstage profanity, Earle announces at the end of Blues‘ bluegrass cut, “Until The Day I Die,” “. . . and always remember, friends, there’s no room in vulgarity for bluegrass.”
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