Consumer Guide Album
Steve Earle and the Del McCoury Band: The Mountain [E-Squared, 1999]
With bluegrass "more comfortable all the time," the sometime country-rocker turns in his strongest and loosest record of the decade. But bluegrass it ain't--it's too comfortable. I was so impressed with how the music moaned and shivered and flapped around in the wind I wondered how I'd ever overlooked McCoury's outfit until I played their new CD, which is just as clean and tight and anal as every other spoor of Bill Monroe I've ever swept out the door. Slurring like a moonshiner who's been on a mush diet since his bird dog died, Earle rowdies up McCoury's sharpsters till they turn all hairy and bounce off walls like the Pogues. And though the songs are less literary, more generic--blues and breakdown, "pinko folk song" and "real-live-bad-tooth hillbilly murder ballad"--literature is Earle's critical selling point. His stories always sing.