Steve Earle with Alison Moorer. At Campbell Hall, Wednesday, October 11.
Reviewed by Charles Donelan
Steve Earle carries on an American tradition that’s at least as old as Woody Guthrie, and he does so with the strength, conviction, and humanity of a true American hero. He may have won a Grammy in 2005 for Best Contemporary Folk Album, but unless “contemporary folk” is a euphemism for rocking protest and alternately tender and brutal songwriting — which would be great — he is more deserving of a Grammy for Best Contemporary Protest Singer. Oh well, I suppose Grammy knows best, and if we have the music, what more could we want?
But there is more, or Moorer, as in Alison, Earle’s new bride and the sister of alt-country star Shelby Lynne. Moorer opened for her husband with a lovely set in his same style of presentation, with bare-bones solo acoustic guitar and vocals. She has a great voice, a new album of all original songs, and a stunning cover version of the Sam Cooke classic “A Change Is Gonna Come.” Unlike Aretha Franklin, who softens the toughest verse — the one about “my brother” who “winds up knocking me right back down on my knees,” — Moorer sails right into it and then lets out a musical wail that sends shivers down my neck just thinking about it.
Steve Earle got things going with a song called “Fuck the FCC,” kind of just to let you know where he’s at these days. Afterward he apologized to “anyone who brought their kids with them tonight,” but then plunged on to say, “Who would you rather they learned to curse from, me or Dick Cheney?” Although he did not play the title track from his Grammy-winning The Revolution Starts … Now, he did sing and speak to the current political situation in this country and the world with a fire and urgency that is unique in the music industry today. Other show highlights included a short visit for backing vocals from Moorer’s celebrity sis Shelby, and Earle’s trademark barnburners, including “My Old Friend the Blues.”