Album review: Steve Earle, Sidetracks (2002)



By Steve Newton

It’s a testament to the unremitting quality of Steve Earle’s music that this collection of—not outtakes, but, as he calls them, previously unreleased “stray tracks” is just as worthy as any of his previous CDs.

Sidetracks also demonstrates the impressive range of Earle’s material, showing how far he’s come since the straightforward country-rock of his Guitar Town debut. He glides easily between solemn reflection (“Me and the Eagle”), raging, feedback-laden grunge (a sped-up version of Kurt Cobain’s “Breed”), breezy Jamaican reggae (“Johnny Too Bad”), and joyful instrumental Irish music (“Dominick St.”).

Other highlights of this early candidate for my top 10 of 2002 include a vibrant take on the Chambers Brothers’ “Time Has Come Today” (with vocal duet by Sheryl Crow and activist rants by Abbie Hoffman), and an alternate version—featuring backing vocals by the Fairfield Four—of “Ellis Unit One”, the chilling anti-execution ode from the movie Dead Man Walking.


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