Steve Earle – Copperhead Road

Copperhead  1988 UNI Recordings

As a metalhead in my college years, I tended to be adverse to music that didn’t have some semblence of heaviness about it.  Big, loud distorted guitars were typically the order of the day, but I also started to gravitate toward other styles that at least incorporated a sense of individuality in the face of accepted norms.  Steve Earle’s Copperhead Road disc was quite the surprise addition to my collection given my admitted (almost fearful) aversion to country music.

For starters, Steve Earle is an artist who, over the years, has earned rightful respect and credit for bringing the proverbial “big beat” to mainstream country and “rockifying” it.  Garth Brooks and plenty of other mainstream country artists owe at least a tip of the hat to Steve Earle for almost single-handedly bringing deep-rooted rock sensibility to modern country music with his seminal “Guitar Town” debut album.  Let’s face it, some of the old school country artists like Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Conway Twitty (!) always had an old-school (and I mean OLD school) rock swagger about them that resulted in as-then unprecidented crossover appeal.

Steve Earle managed to take it a step further with his original output, particularly on Copperhead Road – an album which, while achieving gold status, never quite achieved the mass appeal expected by the artist himself.  Indeed, Earle was quite enamored with up-and-coming bands like Guns N Roses whatwith their rebellious thumbing of the nose to rock norms of the time, and it was never more evident than on this release.

The title track has been covered (and rightfully so) many times over in the live setting, as roots rock bands like the Badlees et al could see the crossover appeal and embrace both song and attitude alike.  A certain loner personality emanates from this album, almost as if Earle knew he was taking a tremendous risk and just didn’t care because he wholeheartedly believed in what he was doing despite his downward spiral into drug addiction.

Track after track moves with an honest country influence blended near perfectly with the hugeness of the rock n roll attitude.  I almost can’t believe to this day how much I love this CD, whatwith songs like “Johnny Come Lately”  and “The Devil’s Right Hand” blending outlaw country with a rock n roll attitude spiked with honesty like nothing I’ve heard before or since.

Crowning achievement on this disc is the fierce “Back To The Wall,” a foreboding and seemingly autobiographical tale set to music that has as much to do with Lynyrd Skynyrd as any pure country influence.   “Keep yourself to yourself and keep your bedroll dry, ‘Cos boy you never can tell what the shadows hide” pretty much sums it all up for this song and this whole CD.

Copperhead Road the album marked a bookend to the first chapter of Steve Earle’s career as his drug addiction and subsequent rehab would see him come back years later with his inimitable talent on full display, finally sober and able to capitalize on his curiously underground legend status and make a respectable career out of things.

Make no mistake…I’ve never connected with country music as a whole, but Steve Earle possesses a unique ability to bridge the gap between country and rock like no one I’ve ever heard and Copperhead Road is an incredible tour de force worthy of inclusion in your CD collection.

And turn it up LOUD!

Rating: 4.5 out of 5