Steve Earle – So You Wannabe An Outlaw (Warner Bros)

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After a folky duets album with Shawn Colvin and an exercise in the blues…2015’s Terraplane…Steve Earle gets back to the country with his strongest album in years.

So You Wannabe An Outlaw finds Earle in the same musical territory that brought him his biggest successes…fairly straightforward country-rock featuring well-crafted songs and inspired playing.

Just how “country” is this album? Well, Willie Nelson trades verses with Earle on the opening title track, and he knows a thing or two about the outlaw country scene. If that’s not enough, Rickey Ray Jackson’s pedal steel guitar drives the point home.

Track two, Lookin’ For A Woman, is another solid country rocker as the newly-single (again) Steve Earle “just can’t shake those Lovesick Blues” as Earle takes us from Heartbreak Hotel to the Blue Bayou. Chris Masterson’s guitar solo is a highlight here.

The Firebreak Line sounds like an old-fashioned country hoedown, with Earle in Woody Guthrie storytelling mode recanting a tale of Ed Pulaski, who saves his co-workers in a mine.

Earle touches on all the usual subjects…heartache, prison, blue collar bravery…without ever sounding rote or dispassionate.

This Is How It Ends is another in a list of poignant duets Earle specializes in, this time with Miranda Lambert who co-writes the song.

Later, a guest vocalist by the name of Johnny Bush joins in for Walkin’ To LA.

The album wraps with a tribute to Steve Earle’s friend and mentor Guy Clark, who passed away last year. Goodbye Michelangelo is about as sweet a farewell as one could hope for with a delicate mandolin shading Earle’s vocal.

To cement this album’s connection to Earle’s country roots, there are four bonus tracks available…all classic Outlaw tunes, one from Billy Joe Shaver, two Willie Nelson and a fitting version of Waylon Jennings’ Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way.

So You Wannabe An Outlaw may be a tip o’ the ten gallon hat to Steve Earle’s past, but in no way can it be considered a step backwards.

Marty Duda

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