Shout! Factory has announced the June 25 release of Steve Earle: The Warner Bros Years, a 4-CD/1-DVD box set paying tribute to an incredibly significant time in Earleâ€™s career. The box set consists of three essential Steve Earle studio albums, Train a Cominâ€™, I Feel Alright, and El CorazÏŒn, the previously unreleased concert album Live at the Polk Theater, and To Hell and Back, a concert filmed at Cold Creek Correctional Facility in Tennessee. The box set also contains a newly written intro by Earle, original booklet information and art from the original Warner Bros releases, and an insightful essay written by David Simon, creator of HBOâ€™s The Wire and Treme, in which Earle appeared in and provided music for.
Earle spoke about the release to Billboard.com, who yesterday premiered â€œThe Devilâ€™s Right Hand,â€ from Live at the Polk Theater.
Steve Earle has an incredible legacy as a trailblazer in American roots music. He has 15 studio albums and multiple Grammy Awards to his name, as well as a catalog that includes several mainstays in the American songbook. Earleâ€™s songs are stories of truth. They speak to American life, small towns, heartbreak, and addiction, as well as politics. Earleâ€™s career is the stuff of legends. In the early â€™90s the man who had given us Guitar Town and Copperhead Road had reached a point where his life and career were imploding due to addiction. Having come through that addiction as well as incarceration, his is an unparalleled story of recovery and redemption.
Train a Cominâ€™ was conceived of while Earle was in treatment, and its release in 1995 proved that Earle was not only back, but better than ever. He filled Train a Cominâ€™ with songs that already existed, as well as some new gems. â€œGoodbyeâ€ was the first song he ever wrote clean. â€œI was only allowed to have a guitar for an hour a day in treatment,â€ he says. â€œEverybody else was allowed to have one any time they were free but my counselor decided I was going to use it to get over, as they say, and he was right. Iâ€™ve been getting over with a guitar all my life.â€ After not writing anything for 4 years, Earle began to work furiously. â€œâ€˜Angel Is the Devilâ€™ had already been written before I got cleanâ€ he says. â€œâ€˜The Unrepentantâ€™ is another that existed, in a form. But theyâ€™d been written almost four years before. Itâ€™s entirely possible that earlier forms of all of those songs or verses in those songs were lost because I demoed them from memory after I got clean and started putting songs together for a record.â€ Also included were the outlaw tale â€œTom Amesâ€™ Prayer,â€ â€œHometown Blues,â€ which begins with an apology to Doc Watson and Thomas Wolfe, â€œSometimes She Forgets,â€ later a Top 10 hit for Travis Tritt, the love song â€œNothinâ€™ Without You,â€ featuring Emmylou Harris, and covers of Townes Van Zandtâ€™s â€œTecumseh Valleyâ€ and The Beatlesâ€™ â€œIâ€™m Looking Through You.â€ Recorded with the talented Peter Rowan, Norman Blake and Roy Huskey, Train a Cominâ€™ was released by the label Winterâ€™s Harvest, and its success led to Earleâ€™s signing with Warner Bros, which rereleased the album.
Having written the extraordinary â€œI Feel Alright,â€ and â€œHard Core Troubadour,â€ Earle felt he had a rock record to record next, and reunited with his band and a few others, including his son Justin Townes Earle. 1996â€™s I Feel Alright also featured songs like â€œHurtinâ€™ Me, Hurtinâ€™ You,â€ â€œValentines Day,â€ â€œBilly and Bonnie,â€ and â€œYouâ€™re Still Standinâ€™ Thereâ€ with Lucinda Williams. â€œCCKMP,â€ written before Earle got clean, spoke to his addiction, citing “cocaine cannot kill my painâ€¦. heroin is the only thing/the only gift the darkness brings.â€ Also included was the haunting â€œSouth Nashville Blues,â€ which would eventually be handpicked by David Simon to be used on HBOâ€™s The Wire.
After the release of I Feel Alright, Earle began spending time at the Station Inn in Nashville, sitting in with other musicians. El CorazÏŒn, released in 1997, was inspired by that time. â€œI started trying to figure out how to play bluegrass,â€ says Earle. â€œBluegrass was something I always loved but I was also a spectator. I always felt that it was out of my depth.â€ Lots of special guests showed up to collaborate on the album, including Emmylou Harris on â€œTaneytown,â€ the Del McCoury Band on â€œYou Know The Rest,â€ the Supersuckers on â€œN.Y.C.,â€ and The Fairfield Four on â€œTelephone Road.â€ El CorazÏŒn also contained the politically disillusioned â€œChristmas in Washington,â€ and â€œFt. Worth Blues,â€ a grieving tribute to Earleâ€™s mentor Townes Van Zandt.
Live at The Polk Theater, the fourth disc in Steve Earle: The Warner Bros Years, was recorded in 1995 at Earleâ€™s first show in Nashville after he got out of jail. Previously unreleased, Live at The Polk Theater highlights include the Earle classics â€œThe Devilâ€™s Right Hand,â€ â€œCopperhead Road,â€ and guest performances by Emmylou Harris and Bill Monroe, the latter of which was a surprise. Earle says, â€œEmmy sat in the audience for a lot of the show and then came up for her songs. Then, four or five songs into the show Iâ€™m getting this huge reaction in the middle of â€œAngel is the Devilâ€ and I thought, I didnâ€™t do anything. Then I turned around and Bill Monroe was standing there.â€ Recorded in multi-track, the sound is pristine. â€œItâ€™s nice to have those records in one place but that Polk Theater show sounds really good. We played our asses off that night.â€
Also included in Steve Earle: The Warner Bros Years is a performance filmed at the Cold Creek Correctional Facility in Tennessee in 1996. The performance was court-ordered, one of the conditions of his probation was that Earle perform at a prison within the state of Tennessee. â€œTo Hell and Backâ€ was broadcast on MTV but has never before been released on DVD. Of the experience Earle says â€œThereâ€™s a lot of murderers there. Itâ€™s essentially a center for violent crimes. Itâ€™s a tough place. Itâ€™s realâ€”they did catch it and they didnâ€™t censor it.â€ Asked whether he thought about Johnny Cash at Folsom while doing the show, Earle says â€œWell, sure, I definitely thought about that, and I engaged in some of the same passive aggressive behavior that John did. Â I played an acoustic set and when I picked the electric back up, the roof just about came off the place.â€
In a new introduction written for Steve Earle: The Warner Bros Years, Earle writes â€œWhat I hope people take away from this period of my life is this: Donâ€™t let anyone tell you that thereâ€™s any correlation between being creative and being fucked up. Iâ€™m pretty proud of all that Iâ€™ve done since then but when I look back at that period I think, wow, it was an intense burst of creativity for somebody that just got clean. A lot of people will swear up and down that thatâ€™s not what happens. A lot of times artists are discouraged because thereâ€™s a myth thatâ€™s perpetuated by people, some of whom arenâ€™t even artists, that theyâ€™re gonna lose something if they stop living like that. I made four records before Train a Cominâ€™ and Iâ€™m putting out my 15th as I write this. Iâ€™ve been nominated for 14 Grammys and Iâ€™ve won three. Iâ€™ve done way more shit sober than I did fucked up.â€
Steve Earle will be on tour in the US and Canada this summer in support of his new album The Low Highway.