Thankfully, every once in a while a musician comes along with the ability to cut through the banalities and clichés of boilerplate social protest. Steve Earle has a knack for writing across the spectrum—in terms of both musical style and lyrical content—but in recent years he's focused his considerable skills on composing songs that make pointed political arguments simply by telling stories about ordinary people.
“Ellis Unit One,” from the Dead Man Walking soundtrack, is a protest against the death penalty, one of Earle's favorite targets. Because it's told from the perspective of a hard-working guard at the prison, though, Earle doesn't need to spit out any self-righteous blather. His blue-collar character makes his point for him. Songs like this are so good they'll make your skin crawl.
Last year's collection, The Revolution Starts … Now, was timed to hit the stores right before the election. In a similar fashion, Earle uses Palestinian teenagers, truck drivers, soldiers and veterans to tell stories that do more to damn the idiots at the wheel of American society than a whole library of Michael Moore films.
Odds are Earle won't be pulling any punches when he swings through town this week for a show at the Lobo Theatre, sponsored by AMP Concerts and Fan Man Productions. Do yourself a favor, and give this madman a listen. Show starts at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $25 in advance, available at abqmusic.com, Bookworks and Natural Sound. $30 at the door.