Weekly Volcano Blogs: Walkie Talkie Blog

March 18, 2014 at 1:33pm

Steve Earle to perform with Shawn Colvin at Tacoma's Urban Grace Church

Steve Earle and Shawn Colvin

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The traditionalist and the rebel, on the surface, may seem like natural enemies. But they often can be friends, and sometimes they're even one in the same. Country singer/songwriter Steve Earle is a case in point. Earle has been a rebel within the country music scene, upfront about his battles with drugs and the law, recording with a punk rock band and generally keeping his music free of the Nashville gloss. Yet by doing all these things, he holds up the country music tradition better than anyone on the Nashville scene has in ages.

His occasional forays into bluegrass also demonstrate Earle's rebel/traditionalist personality. Aside from the odd song here and there, his first significant bluegrass recording was "Train a comin'," which, despite the Beatles covers and the attempt at Jamaican hillbilly, was too subdued to succeed. At times, it seemed Earle thought he was doing the tradition a big favor by subduing his inner rebel. Then he recorded The Mountain with the Del McCoury Band, which was 100 percent pure bluegrass, and, more important, lived up to the tradition without sacrificing Earle's personality.

Earle does an exceedingly good job of writing songs that stay within the tradition. But there's still plenty of rebel fire in the music and a hint of a sneer in his voice. The tunes sound as old as the hills, and they're also intensely personal. Lousy jobs, broken hearts and people who only want to do you wrong have been around for ages, but that doesn't mean you hurt any less or that you shouldn't be angry. I enjoyed Earle's "Little Emperor," a bluegrass kiss-off to George W. Bush, off his 2011 T Bone Burnett produced country album, I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive.

Jumping forward to this year, Earle will join fellow Grammy Award winning singer-songwriter Shawn Colvin for a night of "Songs & Stories" May 17 in Tacoma's Urban Grace Church. The two musicians will song swap, sing duets, tell stories and sing their own awesomeness.

SHAWN COLVIN AND STEVE EARLE, 7:30 p.m., Saturday, May 17, Urban Grace Church, 902 Market St., Tacoma, $49-$85, 253.591.5894

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