Steve Earle has lived through the sort of horrors that have launched a million country songs: addiction, affliction, heartbreak, even prison. He wears them in his voice, but for all his authentic world-weariness, what's most appealing about him is the wide-eyed, unmistakable fearlessness with which he goes about his life these days.
When you've kicked the demons Earle has, it's no big deal to write a novel, act on a TV show or sing a heart-on-the-sleeve love song — or play your brand-new tunes for the first time in the NPR offices, in front of dozens of onlookers. "I think that's the first time I've ever sung that song for anybody," Earle says at one point, by way of explaining the minor lyrical glitches that pop up in his performance of "Waitin' on the Sky."
That song opens his terrific new album, I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive — so named for Hank Williams' final song, which also inspired Earle's novel of the same name — and it includes killer lines like, "Didn't know I was gonna live this long / Now I'm sittin' on top of the world." War and death, love and natural disasters are rendered with the gravity they deserve in these songs, and in this Tiny Desk Concert, they're dispensed alongside some wonderfully dry, witty banter. ("We used to make records for girls," he says. "Now, we make 'em for nerds.")
An actor on David Simon's last two TV series, The Wire and Treme, Earle closes this set with "This City," a song he wrote for the latter.
- "Waitin' On The Sky"
- "Every Part Of Me"
- "This City"
Filmed and edited by Michael Katzif; audio by Kevin Wait; photo by Adele Hampton