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“Transcendental Blues”

Posted by purplemary54 on April 5, 2012

When he first appeared on the music scene in the 80s, it would’ve been easy to dismiss Steve Earle as just another middle of the road country singer.  And then he stopped caring what the country music business thought.  Okay, there was a lot of booze and drugs, a couple of wives, some failed albums, and a little prison time in between, but that’s not important right now.

Or it is.  Because all of that stuff combined to make Earle the songwriter and musician he is now.  And that led to songs like “Transcendental Blues.”  Not much happens in this song.  Or everything is happening.  It’s sort of fuzzy, kind of like the music.  There’s an accordion, some percussion that is reminiscent of Indian music.  There’s some acoustic guitar.  And then there’s this massive rumbling and fuzzed out electric that carries this song somewhere else–but it’s impossible to tell you where.  It’s like he enters some kind of musical Twilight Zone.  I know I felt transported the first time I heard this.

The lyrics are cryptic.  There’s obvious references to his troubled past, to marriage, to failed expectations.  But there isn’t anything to hang on to.  The lyrics seem to circle back and around abstractly.  But it also seems very intimate and personal.  This is a song that doesn’t leave a lot of room for the listener to enter.  Or it leaves too much.  This song, for all its apparent intimacy, is also wide open.  It’s really difficult to pin down.  It makes you think about things like choices and chances, and where you might have ended up if you took a left at Albuquerque instead of a right.

“Back roads never carry you where you want ’em to.  Leave you standin’ there with them old transcendental blues.”


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