Steve Earle: Jerusalem

Steve Earle


Artemis Records

Let's get the "controversy" out of the way. You've probably heard of "John Walker's Blues," a song about John Walker Lindh, on Steve Earle's new album. An editorial in the Wall Street Journal, titled "Terror Tune," wailed that this "bearded country singer... hit an off-note by recording a sympathetic ballad about the travails of a certain young ex-Taliban soldier." The song, according to the WSJ, has "everyone from the New York Post to CNN...dumbstruck by the audacity." The Post greeted the song with its usual levelheaded decorum: "Twisted Ballad Honors Tali-Rat."

My, my. It seems Steve Earle is one of those Bolsheviks who hates America, doesn't vote Republican, and takes showers--like a typical hell-bound hedonist--in the nude. He might seem like a guitar-totin' traitor until you discover that the WSJ "forgot" to mention that "John Walker's Blues" is written from Lindh's perspective, as Earle imagines it to be. It's not a diatribe against America or in favor of the Taliban, it's just a song musing on the thoughts possibly careering around inside Lindh's head.

Earle solemnly growls, "We came to fight the jihad/And our hearts were pure and strong/As death filled the air, we all offered up prayers and prepared for our martyrdom." As he sings, a dark buzz of guitar twists what appears to be a simple folk song into a smoldering electric elegy for youthful idealism.

As if to prove he's some kinda Commie-lovin', Talibutt-kissin' deserter, Earle follows it with "The Kind," a sultry, acoustic cha-cha-cha about cowboys and girls, and the organ-propelled Tex-Mex frolic, "What's a Simple Man to Do?" Shut up, ya beatnik. "Amerika v. 6.0 (The Best We Can Do)" borrows the guitar riff from "Jumping Jack Flash" as Earle skewers Wall Street, HMOs, and other malfunctioning national institutions. "Go Amanda" is a power-pop ditty that the Sweet could cover (if they weren't a defunct 'n' un-American foreign band). The disparate music and themes show an artist in evolution, adding dissonant notes to what once would've been good ol' alt-country tunes. Jerusalem is a hard look at America and it's a reflective gaze at passion and broken hearts. Love it or leave it alone.