Steve Earle

It's almost as if Steve Earle's 12th studio recording has been issued as an antidote to this season's abundance of carefully worded stumping. All but two of the 11 songs were recorded within 24 hours of conception, in a frenzied rush to “weigh in” during “the most important election of our lifetime.” Sure, by shooting from the hip Earle occasionally misfires, letting unfocused rage (“F the CC”) or garish sarcasm (“Condi, Condi”) get the best of him. But even with the hotheaded gaffes, Revolution could be the most pointed (and poignant) protest record of 2004. On mournful ballads like “Rich Man's War,” “The Gringo's Tale,” and “Comin' Around” (a chilling duet with Emmylou Harris), political sermons are dressed in arching, elegant melodies. And while Revolution relies on the same heavy drawl and dirty Telecasters of past efforts, something about it — be it the urgency, the bluntness, or the world that inspired it — is different: This time it feels like there's a lot more at stake.

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