Steve Earle and Shawn Colvin to Rock the North State
● By Phil Reser
An Acoustic Twist
By Phil Reser
Country music renegade Steve Earle is a Virginia-born, Texas-bred good ol’ boy, a high school dropout, big-time record producer and world-wide touring performer who’s written a novel, a play and a book of short stories. He has appeared in film and television and is a recovering heroin addict who spent time in both jail and drug recovery, along with having been married seven times.
His early albums, with hits like “Guitar Town,” “Hillbilly Highway,” “I Ain’t Ever Satisfied,” “The Devil’s Right Hand,” and “Copperhead Road,” marked him as a great American songwriter.
It was in 1975 that 20-year-old Earle traveled to Nashville to embark on a musical career, and soon met with childhood inspirations Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt. When he began performing at small Nashville venues, country fans were initially put off by his long hair and opposition to the Vietnam War. His strong musical abilities and unique country-rock style, however, eventually won out.
His debut studio album, “Guitar Town,” received both commercial and critical acclaim, with one track, “Goodbye’s All We Got Left,” landing on the country music chart’s Top 10. On that record and his second release, “Exit O,” his feet became planted in country music.
Nobody except Earle suspected what was to happen next. Copperhead Road became the recording where he brought out a full arsenal of guitars, big drums and slick production, which critics and listeners tagged “too rock for country and too country for rock ‘n roll.”
Throughout his long history of songwriting, Earle has incorporated his politically left ideals, including his anti-death penalty and anti-war stances, into songs on the albums, “Jerusalem” and “The Revolution Starts.”
“There are some people who want to believe that politics should be off limits in art or pop culture,” he says. “I just didn’t grow up in a time when they were. Plus, my younger audiences all come directly from the political stuff. I’d be cutting a pretty substantial part of my base off if I stopped writing political songs.”
For the recording project “Revolution,” Earle won a Grammy Award for best contemporary folk album. He won another Grammy (best contemporary folk/Americana album) for “Washington Square Serenade,” And a third (best contemporary folk album) for his Townes Van Zandt-tribute album, “Townes.”
During this last decade, Earle released a folk-rock project that he titled after a Hank Williams song, “Never Get out of This World Alive,” and he hosted an event called Woodyfest in celebration of Woody Guthrie’s 100th birthday in New York City.
He recently released “Terraplane,” which encompassed everything from early country-style Texas blues all the way up to modern electric blues.
Now he’s re-inventing himself as one half of an acoustic guitar duo with Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter Shawn Colvin. She has sung and recorded his songs, including his anthem “Someday.”
A couple of years back, Colvin approached Earle about sharing the stage, resulting in going on the road with “Songs and Stories, Together Onstage,” a run of sold-out song swaps, duets and storytelling.
She’s taken a personal liking to sharing the spotlight with other musicians. With the road show The Three Girls & Their Buddy, Colvin paired up with Emmylou Harris, Patty Griffin and Buddy Miller, and more recently, she did a performance tour with Mary Chapin Carpenter.
This year, the two former Texas residents composed and released the album “Colvin and Earle,” and are currently traveling and performing songs from that collection and each other’s long-time favorites.
Earle says, “Once again, it’s just me and Shawn. It’s going out and trying to reach people in each other’s audience that we wouldn’t normally reach, getting our audiences together in one place. Part of the connection is that both of us have spent a lot of time out there with one guitar and playing on stage by yourself. Shawn’s really good, a really great guitar player and a really good solo performer. Not everybody can do that. I’m very thankful that she’s like myself, a person that can go out with one guitar and make a living if you need to.”
Thursday, Sept. 8
Cascade Theatre, Redding
Saturday, Sept. 10
Van Duzer Theatre, Humboldt State University
Sunday, Sept. 11
Laxson Auditorium, Chico State University