Steve Earle Takes Turn Toward Transcendental Blues

Nashville songwriter's upcoming album defies categorization.

A rebel spirit who has delved into rock, country, folk, blues, bluegrass and more, Steve Earle aims wide on his forthcoming album.

Due June 6, Transcendental Blues will include all of those elements, plus a pair of collaborations with masterful Irish accordionist Sharon Shannon that were recorded in Dublin, Ireland.

"It's a rock record," Earle said, from Nashville, while finishing recording. That may be so, but it didn't prevent him from indulging his influences.

On "Until the Day I Die" he supplants his band, the Dukes, with Tim O'Brien & the Bluegrass Dukes (Darrell Scott, Casey Driessen and Dennis Crouch) in revisiting the music he performed so memorably on 1999's Grammy-nominated The Mountain (RealAudio excerpt of title track), where he was teamed with the Del McCoury Band.

"I was lucky enough to make a bluegrass record with the best bluegrass band in the world," Earle said, "and it's probably the most I've ever learned — or ever will — making a record or touring in my life."

Earle recorded "Steve's Last Ramble" and "The Galway Girl" with the Sharon Shannon Band. "Sharon's the best accordion player in Ireland, and she plays diatonic — button — accordion. It's a tough instrument," Earle said.

"She's really big over there. And she lives in Galway, which is where I spend my time in Ireland when I go."

Fans of Earle's hard-edged country, as in his work on such albums as his 1986 debut Guitar Town (RealAudio excerpt of title track) and 1996's El Corazon, shouldn't be disappointed, as the Dukes — David Steele (guitar), Kelley Looney (bass) and Will Rigby (ex-dBs, drums) — return, along with Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers organist Benmont Tench, on the rocking "Another Town" and "Wherever I Go."

Those who prefer Earle's softer side might go for the folkier "When I Fall," where he's joined by his sister, singer/songwriter Stacey Earle.

Clean and sober since being paroled more than five years ago, Earle was recently liberated from his sixth marriage.

"I have five ex-wives, because I married one of them twice," he explained. "It's embarrassing, is what it is. And it won't happen again."

Given his history and ongoing political activism, directed particularly against land mines and the death penalty, it's probably not surprising that Earle turns philosophical in introducing Transcendental Blues, which was co-produced with "Twang Trust" partner Ray Kennedy.

Earle, who when not tying or untying his various knots has also made court appearances on drug charges, also issued a written statement about Transcendetal Blues, acknowledging his Beatles fascination on what he described as the "psychedelic" title track and the "Rubbery Soul" tune "Everyone's in Love With You." "I Can Wait" and "The Boy Who Never Cried" he describes as "Jules Shear-goes-Fab."

"I am compelled to look back on years of going through, above, as well as around my life looking for loopholes to redefine everything, including any and all of the ideas that I have held close to my heart along the way: Art — Freedom — Justice — Revolution — Love (a big one) — Growth — Passion — Parenting (a really big one)," he wrote. "And I find that for me, for now, transcendence is about being still long enough to know when it's time to move on."

Earle wouldn't appear to be keeping still for long on Transcendental Blues.