Live Review: Steve Earle live in Basingstoke

Country singer-songwriter turns to the blues after divorce.

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When Steve Earle toured here last year the hellhounds were on his trail after the breakdown of his seventh – and longest lasting – marriage, to Allison Moorer. They’re still at bay – at one point tonight Earle checks his watch to tell us he’s been clean for 21 years and one week (what kind of watch tells you that?) – skulking under his sardonic gaze.

The vicarious thrill of a Steve Earle gig is watching someone whose dreams turned to nightmares and lived to tell the tale – because he tells it so well. There’s a brutal, captivating honesty in his songs about his women and his hell-raising that hasn’t dimmed with sobriety or age. Both themes recur on his latest album, Terraplane, his own smart take on blues. He chugs through the opening two tracks, Baby Baby Baby (Baby), blowing a Howlin’ Wolf harmonica, and You’re The Best Lover That I Ever Had while his well-honed band settle in, before they all spread their wings on Baby’s Just As Mean As Me, where Earle duets with fiddle player Eleanor Whitmore.

He roams through his career, deliberately pausing at touchstones along the way; touchstones for us such as Guitar Town and Copperhead Road from the 80s, when he was kicking dirt in Bruce Springsteen’s clean- shaven face, and touchstones for him such as Goodbye (“the first song I wrote clean”), _South _Nashville Blues – his unflinching look at his past – or any of his poems to Allison Moorer.

But he repeatedly returns to Terraplane, transforming the show late on with the growling, highly charged The Tennessee Kid, where he gives the Robert Johnson legend a modern twist while invoking earlier deals with the devil by Faust and Mephistopheles among others. His animated rant has menacing undertones that the band exploits with glee, throwing a wicked skipped beat into the musical cauldron.

Hugh Fielder

Hugh Fielder has been writing about music for 47 years. Actually 58 if you include the essay he wrote about the Rolling Stones in exchange for taking time off school to see them at the Ipswich Gaumont in 1964. He was news editor of Sounds magazine from 1975 to 1992 and editor of Tower Records Top magazine from 1992 to 2001. Since then he has been freelance. He has interviewed the great, the good and the not so good and written books about some of them. His favourite possession is a piece of columnar basalt he brought back from Iceland.