Pop on Record: Steve Earle `El Corazn'

Warner Bros. 9362-46789-2

Though mostly written whilst Earle was on holiday in Galway earlier this year, the songs on El Corazn stick pretty firmly to American territory. The furthest any of his characters travel from his native Southern states here is the eponymous "NYC", and even then the enthusiasm of the country boy hitch-hiking north - "there must be something happening there, it's just too big a town" - is cancelled out by the reservations of the driver who made the same trip years before: "I knew I was just jealous if I didn't wish him well / I slipped the kid a twenty, said `Billy, give 'em hell'".

These songs are full of movement, packed with latter-day pioneer spirits trying to find out if the grass really is greener elsewhere. Sometimes they find what they're looking for, like the lad becalmed in Lafayette, "workin' all week for the Texaco check", who finally ignores his mother's advice and splits for the bright lights of Houston, where he discovers "Telephone Road", a strip "ten miles long, fifty car lots and a hundred honky-tonks". Other times the journey is less successful, like that taken by the black youth who, again ignoring sage parental advice, travels to redneck "Taneytown", where he's forced to defend himself with a knife which he drops as he's running away; another black youth finds it, and is hung for the crime.

Such injustices are more directly addressed in "Christmas In Washington", which is effectively Earle's own "Song For Woody", an impassioned lament for the passing of a tradition of social conscience, set to tentative mandola and harmonium accompaniment. His heart, clearly, is in another time - probably the one reflected in "The Other Side Of Town", a beautifully- realised genre exercise in immaculate Hank Williams style, complete with "antique" scratches.

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