That said, “The Gulf of Mexico” is a genuine highlight. True, it’s based on a traditional folk/country melody, and it has a well-traveled opening line: “Come and gather ’round me, people, and a tale to you I’ll tell.” But Earle picks up ever so subtle a glide that allows him to transcend the moment. And “Meet Me in the Alleyway” plays like a sweet-and-evil dirty blues nicked from the Tom Waits school of junkyard productions. Here, Earle sounds like he’s playing to stay alive.
The album was recorded in one long session in New Orleans and five shorter ones in Los Angeles, but it sounds far more self-assured. Pedal-steel player extraordinaire Greg Leisz is the true hero, adding his chiaroscuro to tracks and exponentially raising the outcome. Perhaps a leaner combo or a scrappier bunch (while keeping Leisz) would benefit the next album.
Fans of Steve Earle will certainly find enough to like on I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive. But they probably won’t find enough to love.
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