Earle is known for his politically charged songs and a history marked by jail time, drug addiction and five ex-wives. Despite his personal adversity, Earle has had his share of successes in multiple musical genres, from country and bluegrass to folk and rock. He's an author (Doghouse Roses: Stories), a playwright (Karla, about a woman on Death Row), a producer (current album project: Joan Baez) and an actor (HBO's The Wire). Artists such as Baez, Johnny Cash, the Pretenders and Emmylou Harris have recorded his songs. Earle headlines a show in which his wife plays an opening set Friday, April 11 at the Bearsville Theater.
Though she is younger than Earle, Moorer evokes the resilience and maturity of one who has survived tragedy. She is the younger sister of country singer Shelby Lynne. The girls were teenagers when their father shot their mother, then turned the gun on himself.
Moorer dedicated her new release, Mockingbird, to the "memory of my Mama. I can still hear her sing." The album pays tribute to music popularized by such female singers as Nina Simone, June Carter Cash and Joni Mitchell. "We lived in the country and we had a 30-minute ride to school," Moorer recalled. "We didn't have a working radio in the car, so we would sing. My mother always had a tune. Sometimes you can hear her voice in my voice. I think that's really cool, and it's a way for me to stay connected to her."
Moorer said that her relationship with Earle is one that they both work hard to preserve. Though the couple spent their honeymoon night on the road to Salt Lake City, the lifestyle is one that cements their relationship. "One of the things that helped us connect was that I understood completely what he was doing, and vice versa," Moorer said. "Some people think all we do is all smoke and mirrors, or that we loll about all day and go play a gig. They don't understand all the work that goes into what we do."
Last month, Earle won a second Grammy Award for his Washington Square Serenade, an album of Americana songs inspired by his love for Moorer and New York City: the place he now calls home. Some might wonder what to expect from a country artist who segued from bluegrass and rock to folk music. For Earle, it was a natural progression, or a "continuing narrative," and he has learned not to care much about where he fits in.
"My survival depends on me remembering that what you think about me is none of my business," he said. "I used to worry about the fact that I'm still in the country bins in some places; and in crossword puzzles, I've been a country singer and a rock singer. I'd love to think that my audience is working people in the heartland of America; but for the most part, they are semi-intellectuals on both coasts and other places in the country that are more open-minded. I'm okay with that."
Earle is not okay with keeping quiet about issues that rile him. He has boldly addressed his disdain for the death sentence and for the war in Iraq in his songs. Colleagues and friends feared for Earle's safety when he wrote "John Walker's Blues," a ballad sung from the perspective of John Walker Lindh, an American serving time for aiding al-Qaeda. But Earle said that he never stops to consider whether his songs will be played on the radio, or the possibility of being injured physically or professionally. "Once you start making those decisions, you aren't making art anymore," he said. "Art is fearless by its nature. It's part of the definition."
hether it's the love song he co-wrote with his wife on his new album or an antiwar anthem, Steve Earle's lyrical range has stirred souls and inspired controversy for more than two decades. Here is our Hot List:
-"Guitar Town" (Guitar Town, MCA, 1986):
Gotta keep rockin while I still can / I got a two-pack habit and a motel tan / But when my boots hit the boards, I'm a brand-new man / With my back to the riser, I make my stand.
- "Copperhead Road" (Copperhead Road, MCA, 1988)
Well, the DEA's got a chopper in the air / I wake up screaming like I'm back over there / I learned a thing or two from ol' Charlie don't you know / You better stay away from Copperhead Road.
- "Christmas in Washington" (El Corazón, Warner Brothers/WEA, 1997)
Come back to us, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King / We're marching into Selma, as the bells of freedom ring
- "John Walker's Blues" (Jerusalem, Artemis, 2002)
But Allah had some other plan, some secret not revealed / Now they're draggin' me back with my head in a sack, to the land of the infidel.
- "The Revolution Starts...Now" (The Revolution Starts...Now, Artemis Records, 2004)
Where you work and where you play / Where you lay your money down / What you do and what you say / The revolution starts now
- "Days Aren't Long Enough" (Washington Square Serenade, New West Records, 2007)
Four more seasons on parade / Show their colors, then they fade / But that won't happen to us, darlin' / We'll remember how it was / Then begin again because days are never long enough
Doors open at 8 p.m.; the show starts at 9 p.m. Reserved seats are available only at WDST.com. General admission (standing-room-only) tickets are available at www.bearsvilletheater.com for $37.95, which includes a $2.95 service charge.