By his own admission, Steve Earle hustled 2004's The Revolution Starts Now (Artemis) out in time to have an impact on the presidential election, hoping to swing votes to Sen. John Kerry. The CD is his hardest rocking in years, and the title song is a rock 'n' roll clarion call. "I rushed it to get it out for the election because I felt that I could be of service and be part of that effort," he says by phone from New York City. "I wanted it to be about a lot of issues and it turned out to be an anti-war record."
Even though George W. Bush was re-elected anyway, Earle contends the album isn't dated. "The reason I didn't have any fears about its relevance in the aftermath of the election from the git-go was even if we won, there would still be a war the day after the election," he says. "This record's about stopping a war.
"This is the part of the tour I've been waiting for. I wrote these songs to be sung in the United States of America. Everything's been practice up to now."
Since Earle's 1986 debut with Guitar Town, he's had more than his share of outlaw in him -- more in a figurative sense, but even literally in the early '90s when he spent time in jail for drug possession. He returned to notoriety in 2002 with "John Walker's Blues," a song about John Walker Lindh, the man dubbed "the American Taliban" -- inspiring one Nashville radio talk-show host to compare Earle to Jane Fonda and her "Hanoi Jane" exploits in Vietnam.
The Revolution Starts ... Now has attracted some attention for "Condi, Condi," a song inviting the newly confirmed secretary of state to come out and dance. The ambiguity of the song's come-on has led some conservatives to see malicious intent in it, but there's no confusing the point of songs like "Rich Man's War" and "F the CC." Similarly, there's no lack of clarity as to where Earle stands when he joins the talking-head class, taking to the microphone Sunday nights on the liberal Air America talk-radio network. Some see all this activity as a sign of Earle becoming increasingly political. He doesn't see it as such a stark change.
"Copperhead Road's a pretty f--king political record," says the eight-time Grammy nominee, referring to his 1998 album. "That seems to be lost on some people.
"There's an appreciable percentage of people that are introduced to political ideas just because it rocks," Earle says. "I like my job." He also admits laughingly the role is rewarding. "I make an embarrassing amount of money for being a borderline Marxist, and I travel all over the world. My girlfriend's really pretty."
The satisfaction that comes with the path he's chosen doesn't mean Kerry's loss was easy to take. "It's especially hard in the part of the country I live in," Earle says. "I think I'm going to keep my place in Nashville, but I've pretty much decided I'm moving to New York when the tour's over. I'm not quite ready to abandon the playing field yet, but I feel a lot less like a Martian in New York than I do in Nashville."
Earle spent election night 2004 in New York performing at the legendary punk club, CBGB's. The show was the culmination of a short tour through swing states, and things looked pretty good when he went onstage.
"We went on at 10 o'clock and there was still hope," he says. "As we walked on stage, we won Pennsylvania, so we felt pretty good. Ohio wasn't decided until about an hour after we came off. The black hole hit when Florida finally went, and we realized it was going to come down to Ohio and we were probably losing Ohio. It still wasn't decided when I got back to hotel."
Now that he's in love, Earle says, he expects he'll be writing more love songs, but he's not in a hurry to make another album. He's producing tour mate Allison Moorer's next album when the tour ends, and he's returning to his first novel, which he put on hold to work on The Revolution Starts Now, and perhaps will record an album with the Bluegrass Dukes, his bluegrass band.
"I made seven records in 10 years, and I want a little breathing space before the next one," Earle says. "I'll definitely put out another record before Asshole's out of office, so the odds of it being totally apolitical are slim."
Pink Slip, the Mardi Gras-only, all-woman band, brings its brand of glam/glitter punk to the masses in Muses, Tucks and Thoth parades this year. Muses has also booked the Revolutionary Snake Ensemble from Boston, Mass., to play its version of parade music, which means everything from James Brown to Sun Ra.
"For our adult music," Muses member Dionne Randolph says, "we try to have something different and fresh, not in other parades."
Revolutionary Snake Ensemble and Pink Slip will also perform at the 3 Ring Circus' Big Top Wednesday and Friday, respectively.
For a transcript of the Steve Earle interview and reviews of DVDs and CDs by Mark Sandman, Michael Powers, Ernest Dawkins' New Horizons Ensemble, Tom Freund and Slade as well as African Underground Vol. 1: Hip-Hop Sinegal, see "Opening Act" online.