I have a weird bone to pick about records that weren’t recorded with the same group of musicians throughout. This doesn’t necessarily apply to guest vocalists, but it does apply to guests on other instruments. I guess my argument would be that I want a record to have a consistent sound and recording with different groups of musicians ensures an inconsistent sound. I am a hypocrite, though, because my favourite songwriter, Neil Young, does this all the time, pulling recordings from different places to assemble albums, and I never hold it against him. I shouldn’t hold it against Earle either (or any of the other people I’ve held it against over the years). There are so many good reasons why you might only have a musician for one song, for five songs or whatever, it is really silly to get upset about something like that. So I’m trying not to.
I bring all of this up because two of these tracks were recorded with different bands – the Pogues and a bluegrass “super group” I’d never heard of – and, for me, I think it helps to explain the inconsistent sound of the record. But it doesn’t exactly, because the synthesizer that unfortunately dates a few tracks is played by one of his band members.
Anyway, Earle has written some pretty good songs and pads it out with some songs that aren’t up to the same standard. As numerous others have pointed out, the album is front-loaded so that the initial impression is that this is a pretty great record but, by the time you get to the end, you’re not sure it’s a good one.
It’s the arrangements that get me, though. At times this is alternative country or outlaw country or whatever you want to call it. At times it’s folk. Then, occasionally, it’s approaching slick ’80s pop country, which is the same thing I felt about his debut (if I remember). For whatever reason, Earle in the ’80s couldn’t help indulging in a few synthesizers on his ballads, and it dates the record.
But I think the good outweighs the less good.
7/10 I guess