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  • jshambley

Steve Earle - 'Guitar Town'

Updated: Jul 12, 2021

Album: Guitar Town

Artist: Steve Earle

Release Date: March 5, 1986

Genre: Country Rock

Length: 0:34:35

Label: MCA Records

Producer: Emory Gordy, Jr./Tony Brown/Richard Bennett

Rolling Stone Top 500 (2012): #482

Rolling Stone Top 500 (2020): N/A

1,001 Album Book: Yes

Please Mommy! Please take me to Guitar Town...!

Introductory album from country singer-songwriter, Steve Earle, Guitar Town quickly rose to #1 on the U.S Billboard Top Country Albums. While it wasn't as popular amongst the masses, the record still rose to peak at #89 on the overall U.S Billboard 200 and was enough for Earle to get nominated for the Best Male Country Vocalist and Best Country Song at the 1987 Grammys.

From the opening guitar strumming, with the insistent bass drum pounding behind it, just to build into Earle's distinctly country voice, the title track "Guitar Town" instantly solidifies Steve Earle as one of the greatest country performers in history. Even though his voice is notoriously country, the amount of "twang" in his voice is not as prominent as country artist's in current day. The "twang" he uses is authentic and adds to what would already be a charmingly written song.

The lyrics of "Guitar Town" tell a story, probably from Earle's perspective, of a struggling musician's journey to fame. This song, and every other song on the album, is Steve Earle genuinely singing about his life, his struggles, and his rag's to riches rise to fame. The story he sings about in "Hillbilly Highway" describes his early life, growing up in a small town dubbed, none other than, you guessed it, "Hillbilly Highway". Each line Earle exudes out of his mouth comes from a place of authenticity and the listener can tell Steve Earle is passionate about the stories he's telling.

Contrasting the higher energy, drum-induced, country songs from the earlier parts of the album, Steve Earle showcases his softer side with "My Old Friend The Blues" and "Little Rock 'N' Roller". The dazzling introduction lick played on Earle's acoustic guitar, that so slightly plays in the background of his vocal performance, gives a more intimate take on country rock. Even though these types of songs are unique to the album, it gives a nice break to the rest of the tastefully produced album.

One of the first ever country albums to move over from analog recording and into the digital realm, this album is hard to tell it was even made in the 80s. The lack of synths and the lack of cheesiness the 80s is known for (I love the cheesiness though, it's what made the 80s fun), could easily cement this album as a country album that stands the test of time. The focus on Earle's singing and guitar playing serves this album perfectly and gives the listener the idea that Earle is the most important part of the album, with other instruments there to compliment him, which they do to perfection.

I will be honest. Before this album, I never really enjoyed country music. I'm not sure if it's because modern country seems to be a forced style of singing and have unoriginal lyrics focused on topics such as beer, girls and trucks. The stories Earle tells on Guitar Town make me feel like I'm his best friend after the final song "Down The Road". Utilizing his unique style of voice, the distinct country sound that emits with each song is superbly executed and has made a non-country fan in myself love every bit of this album. If you're anything like me and dislike modern country, I cannot recommend this album enough as it has made me excited for future country albums I will listen to on this journey after I leave Guitar Town...

Favorite Songs: "Guitar Town", "Goodbye's All We've Got Left", "Hillbilly Highway"

Least Favorite Song: I don't feel as any songs are bad enough to put here

Production Quality:

  • Mix = 10/10 (mixed perfectly to showcase Earle's songwriting abilities)

  • Innovation = 8.5/10 (Not super innovative with production techniques, but was one of the first country albums to make the switch to digital recording)

Songwriting Quality:

  • Arrangement = 10/10

  • Lyricism = 10/10

Instrumentation Quality:

  • Vocal Timbre = 9/10

  • Instrumental Timbre = 10/10

  • Group Chemistry = 8.5/10 (Mainly Steve Earle with studio musicians. While the chemistry is amazing, the complexities in rhythms aren't very abundant and the instrumentalists seem to get locked into a comfortable style of playing, which isn't a bad thing, but could be slightly more impressive)

Overall Likability:

  • My Personal Rating = 9/10 (I enjoy every song, but some songs are definitely less amazing than others)

Overall Rating: 9.4/10

Any confusion on how the rating is weighted/calculated, please look at my "About" page.

Remember this is all my opinion! Let me know if you agree, disagree or have any comments!

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