Steve Earle's latest album, Jerusalem (E-Squared/Artemis), is less a response to September 11 itself than a response to this country's response to September 11. In the liner notes Earle writes, "Back [in the 60s], as now, it was suggested by some that second-guessing our leaders in a time of crisis was unpatriotic if not downright treasonous." In "Amerika v. 6.0 (The Best We Can Do)" he excoriates boomers for swapping ideals for wealth. In "Conspiracy Theory" he invokes the futility of the Vietnam war as a warning against potential disaster in Iraq. And in "What's a Simple Man to Do?" he empathizes with an illegal alien whose circumstances lead him to sell drugs. In the headline-grabbing "John Walker's Blues," sung from the imagined perspective of the so-called American Taliban, Earle doesn't identify with the subject, but he does try to explain how our broken culture could provoke a search for meaning that might lead to such unfortunate choices. As a whole the record comes across as a genuine attempt to shake America out of its apathy, not only about the looming war against Iraq and the whittling away of our civil liberties, but about the world around us in general. More measured responses have been fashioned by Sleater-Kinney, the Mekons, even Bruce Springsteen, but Earle's songs, though far less subtle, have affected me the most. Sometimes his nasal twang sounds cartoonish, and a few experiments with electronics--like the awful programmed drums on "Conspiracy Theory"--fail miserably, but Jerusalem is nonetheless the singer's most urgent and purposeful album since he got out of jail in the mid-90s. Saturday, November 30, 8 PM, Riviera Theatre, 4746 N. Racine; 773-275-6800 or 312-559-1212.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Glen Rose.