Steve Earle, "The Low Highway" (New West Records)
On "The Low Highway," Steve Earle surveys the landscape, sings about a world of hurt and still musters optimism.
Earle has been writing about the places he has been and how he fits in ever since his 1986 breakthrough debut, "Guitar Town." He crafted "Low Highway" as his road album, recorded with his crack stage band, and you can almost hear the tour bus tires sing.
"Roll over Kerouac, tell Woody Guthrie the news," Earle warbles on "Down the Road Part II."
"Low Highway" covers a lot of ground. Earle's marble mouth sometimes makes it tough to tell, but he laments homelessness on "Invisible," makes peace with loneliness on "After Mardi Gras," riffs on rednecks on "Calico County" and contemplates torching a Wal-Mart on "Burnin' It Down."
The tunes are sturdy, and there's a ramshackle charm to the performances, which have a first-take vibe. Even so, this is coffeehouse country rather than Earle at his edgiest. By the end, on the shamelessly sentimental "Remember Me," he contemplates his legacy singing to his 4-year-old son.
The 58-year-old troubadour clearly is enjoying the ride and wants to keep rolling.