Earle espouses views on live CD

Dave Rossetti

So far left politically that Earle calls himself a borderline Marxist, the Texas-born musician most recently drew the wrath of the political right with the release of last year’s “John Walker’s Blues.” At a time when the so-called American Taliban was being demonized, Earle took artistic liberties to paint Walker as a teen so disillusioned by American society that he turns to “the word of Mohammed,” eventually finding himself with the fundamentalist Taliban.

While conservatives lambasted Earle as un-American and used media outlets to call for boycotts of Jerusalem — the album that contained “John Walker’s Blues” — before it saw release, Earle tried to proceed with business as usual. That was easier said than done. This album serves as a companion piece to Amos Poe’s upcoming documentary Just an American Boy that chronicles the mini-firestorm that surrounded Earle during that time.

Controversy aside, the tracks on this release find the 48-year-old troubadour in fine form. Earle kicks the first disc off with two of Jerusalem’s best, the cynically sarcastic “Amerika v. 6.0 (The Best We Can Do)” and the apocalyptic “Ashes to Ashes,” where Earle lends coarse vocals to an unsettling whispered chorus.

Earle’s liberal, peacenik nature shows up on more than just 9/11-inspired tracks. He eloquently informs his audience of his objection to the death penalty (“…my government’s supposed to be me, and I object to me killing people”) before launching into the low-key folk of “Over Yonder (Jonathan’s Song).”

For the Earle-junkie that looks forward to the outspoken singer/songwriters’ every utterance, the double disc contains plenty of jewels, especially on the hilarious spoken-word track “Schertz, Texas.” Earle seems completely in his element when regaling his audience with tales of his boyhood home, a place that includes a plethora of Earle-pounding “great big square-headed cowboys named Otto.”

Earle’s prayer for peace in the Middle East, “Jerusalem,” sounds more earnest and beautiful here than on the studio cut. Also, Earle’s seemingly effortless medley of Townes Van Zandt’s “Rex’s Blues” into his own “Ft. Worth Blues” is a moment of folk mastery.

But live albums are rarely bastions of perfection. Earle’s rambling dialogue before “Christmas In Washington” harms the disc’s flow, and the lack of middle ground in his f-bomb peppered banter may turn off all but Earle’s most diehard fans.

Even for all its political overtones, Earle’s rollicking cover of Nick Lowe’s “What’s So Funny About Peace Love & Understanding” fully captures the direction Earle’s career has taken: Music is his greatest avenue for sociopolitical expression, and he’s having fun doing it, too.

And he doesn’t care if those great big square-headed cowboys named Otto appreciate it, either.

Grade: B