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Jerusalem
Artist: Steve Earle
Format: CD
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Glance at the song titles on the back of Jerusalem, Steve Earle'slatest disc, and it's obvious that the hard-rocking alt-country hero hasdelved into the heavy headlines of post-9/11 America. More than half of thetracks express Earle's growing discontent with his homeland, a sentimentthat shouldn't surprise listeners already familiar with the singer'soeuvre, which has, at times, covered drug abuse, the Vietnam War, and the deathpenalty.

It's not what Earle chooses to confront, but how he tackles it that ismost astonishing: songs waver from guitar-strummed country ("The Kind"),conjunto rhythms ("What's a Simple Man to Do?"), talking blues("Amerika v. 6.0"), and even modern-day R&B on the stunning "ConspiracyTheory." The tune opens with Earle reciting doom-and-gloom lyrics overan unwavering drum and bass line then cuts into a sultry dance groove. Whiletraditional-based Earle fans might shake their heads in dismay, they'llbe overshadowed by the phalanx of kids hitting the dance floor. Who'd athunk it?

"John Walker's Blues" makes for another incredible moment onJerusalem. "If my daddy could see me now-chains around my feet/He doesn't understand that sometimes a man/ Has to fight for what he believes,"Earle sings in his gritty drawl, invoking images of the treasonous Taliban fighter.The song disintegrates into a recording of Sura 47, Verse 19 of the Koran, whichjuxtaposes American pop culture imagery with weighty Islamic scripture. Walker'sstory is a complicated one, and Earle effectively illustrates the conflict atthe heart of the situation.

"An Old Testament record," Earle says, and his work lives up to thephrase. More prophetic than preachy, Jerusalem captures Earle doing whathe does best-living and learning, and-above all-loving life.
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