Steve Earle box set slated for June 25 release

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 Earle’s career. The box set consists of three essential Steve Earle studio albums, Train a Comin’, I Feel Alright, and El Corazόn, 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 HBO’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 “The Devil’s Right Hand,” 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. Earle’s songs are stories of truth. They speak to American life, small towns, heartbreak, and addiction, as well as politics. Earle’s career is the stuff of legends. In the early ’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 Comin’ 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 Comin’ with songs that already existed, as well as some new gems. “Goodbye” was the first song he ever wrote clean. “I was only allowed to have a guitar for an hour a day in treatment,” he says. “Everybody 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. I’ve been getting over with a guitar all my life.” After not writing anything for 4 years, Earle began to work furiously. “‘Angel Is the Devil’ had already been written before I got clean” he says. “‘The Unrepentant’ is another that existed, in a form. But they’d been written almost four years before. It’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.” Also included were the outlaw tale “Tom Ames’ Prayer,” “Hometown Blues,” which begins with an apology to Doc Watson and Thomas Wolfe, “Sometimes She Forgets,” later a Top 10 hit for Travis Tritt, the love song “Nothin’ Without You,” featuring Emmylou Harris, and covers of Townes Van Zandt’s “Tecumseh Valley” and The Beatles’ “I’m Looking Through You.” Recorded with the talented Peter Rowan, Norman Blake and Roy Huskey, Train a Comin’ was released by the label Winter’s Harvest, and its success led to Earle’s signing with Warner Bros, which rereleased the album.

Having written the extraordinary “I Feel Alright,” and “Hard Core Troubadour,” 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. 1996’s I Feel Alright also featured songs like “Hurtin’ Me, Hurtin’ You,” “Valentines Day,” “Billy and Bonnie,” and “You’re Still Standin’ There” with Lucinda Williams. “CCKMP,” written before Earle got clean, spoke to his addiction, citing “cocaine cannot kill my pain…. heroin is the only thing/the only gift the darkness brings.” Also included was the haunting “South Nashville Blues,” which would eventually be handpicked by David Simon to be used on HBO’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 Corazόn, released in 1997, was inspired by that time. “I started trying to figure out how to play bluegrass,” says Earle. “Bluegrass was something I always loved but I was also a spectator. I always felt that it was out of my depth.” Lots of special guests showed up to collaborate on the album, including Emmylou Harris on “Taneytown,” the Del McCoury Band on “You Know The Rest,” the Supersuckers on “N.Y.C.,” and The Fairfield Four on “Telephone Road.” El Corazόn also contained the politically disillusioned “Christmas in Washington,” and “Ft. Worth Blues,” a grieving tribute to Earle’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 Earle’s first show in Nashville after he got out of jail. Previously unreleased, Live at The Polk Theater highlights include the Earle classics “The Devil’s Right Hand,” “Copperhead Road,” and guest performances by Emmylou Harris and Bill Monroe, the latter of which was a surprise. Earle says, “Emmy 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 I’m getting this huge reaction in the middle of “Angel is the Devil” and I thought, I didn’t do anything. Then I turned around and Bill Monroe was standing there.” Recorded in multi-track, the sound is pristine. “It’s nice to have those records in one place but that Polk Theater show sounds really good. We played our asses off that night.”

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. “To Hell and Back” was broadcast on MTV but has never before been released on DVD. Of the experience Earle says “There’s a lot of murderers there. It’s essentially a center for violent crimes. It’s a tough place. It’s real—they did catch it and they didn’t censor it.” Asked whether he thought about Johnny Cash at Folsom while doing the show, Earle says “Well, sure, I definitely thought about that, and I engaged in some of the same passive aggressive behavior that John did.  I played an acoustic set and when I picked the electric back up, the roof just about came off the place.”

In a new introduction written for Steve Earle: The Warner Bros Years, Earle writes “What I hope people take away from this period of my life is this: Don’t let anyone tell you that there’s any correlation between being creative and being fucked up. I’m pretty proud of all that I’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 that’s not what happens. A lot of times artists are discouraged because there’s a myth that’s perpetuated by people, some of whom aren’t even artists, that they’re gonna lose something if they stop living like that. I made four records before Train a Comin’ and I’m putting out my 15th as I write this. I’ve been nominated for 14 Grammys and I’ve won three. I’ve done way more shit sober than I did fucked up.”

Steve Earle will be on tour in the US and Canada this summer in support of his new album The Low Highway.

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