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Steve Earle
Revolution in the head

Steve Earle's latest album is his most emphatic musical statement yet in an increasingly politicised career. Whilst in New York several months ago to take part in the anti-Bush protests coinciding with the Republic Convention, he told David Davies about the shame of his 'lost' years, the need for radical change and why his cattle-dog is more than capable of outwitting Dubya...

"The big march was actually pretty joyous because nobody had to do anything - there were five hundred thousand of us and only 20,000 [Republican supporters]," Earle laughs. "They're definitely behind on this one! New York couldn't go Republican on a bet." Of course as we now know Bush's failing domestic policy wasn't enough to see him ejected come the November election, but recognising that he needed the freshly penned The Revolution Starts...Now and Rich Man's War to be heard before the polling day for them to have any real impact, Earle found himself in the unusual position of writing everyday for this new album. Working up songs in response to the brewing political storm. "I was waking up in the morning with a blank piece of paper, so whatever was going on affected what I wrote." Co-produced with regular collaborator Ray Kennedy, Revolution... is Earle's most rough-and-ready album yet.

The righteous anger that infuses the two aforementioned songs is even more apparent on F The CC, an anti-establishment tirade that shows just how far he has come since he was the toast of Nashville in the mid-'80s. However, lest anyone think his new album is all air punching polemic, I Thought You Should Know and the gorgeous Comin' Around - the latter featuring regular collaborator Emmylou Harris - show there is still a side of Earle interested in what he terms 'chick songs'. "I Thought You Should Know is back to the reason every guy picks up a guitar - it's about getting girls," he admits, and this even extends to a tongue-in-cheek paean to famously ice-cool National Security Adviser (and now Secretary Of State) Condoleeza Rice. "I played an in-store in Washington DC and was hoping she would show up, but she didn't," chuckles Earle. "To be honest, I was kind of bummed."

If he's now undoubtedly one of America's most respected musical forces, it's a destiny that would have seemed unlikely a decade ago. Following an initial run of success, his innate tendency towards hedonism led him deep into drug addiction as the '90s dawned. After numerous failed attempts to straighten out his problems, a stint in jail gave him the juddering shock to the senses he needed. "I've been clean ten years," he says, proudly. "Sometimes I don't even recognise that guy anymore. But I'm proud of a lot of the music I made before that and I don't have a record that I'm ashamed of. Sure, I'm ashamed of everything I did in the late '80s/early '90s outside of my craft, but there's nothing I can do about that. I can't get it back now - I just have to go on."

Earle's artistic drive since he got clean has been undeniable, with a play and a collection of short stories appearing alongside his prolific musical output. He's currently six chapters into a novel, but put the work aside for a tour that took him through the key 'battleground' states in the run-up to the election. Like Bruce Springsteen, who also cast off non-partisan instincts to call for Bush's ejection, Earle believed there was simply no way an engaged artist could sit on the fence. "I've got a cattle-dog that's a lot smarter than the president of the United States we've got right now!" he laughs. "We're in really crucial times and having a dumbass at the helm is scary." Professing Bush's re-election to be an "unthinkable" prospect, Earle didn't rule out emigration, "I always thought the odds were against me dying in this country, and I thought for sure I'd be living in Ireland by now," he admits."[But] I'm not gonna fucking leave my country like this because my grandchildren are going to have to grow up here. If I ever leave here, I want to walk not run, so they may have to put up with me for a while yet."

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