August 06, 1990 12:00 PM

Steve Earle & the Dukes

Earle has always fallen into a crack somewhere between country and rock. While he continues to studiously march to the beat of his own drummer, lately—on Copperhead Road and this album—that drummer has been beating the skins harder and faster.

Earle’s country leanings emerge on “When the People Find Out” with its revival-chorus refrain, on the cranked-up Cajun swing of “Regular Guy” and on the moving death-row confessional, “Billy Austin.” You still hear mandolins and violins on some songs, but they have to strain to rise above the guitars and snare drums.

More typical of the album is “The Other Kind.” It has a bitter but proud introspective quality to its lyrics and a fierceness to its music that suggests Springsteen after a jug of rotgut. Earle also flexes his rock muscles on the Rolling Stones-like stomp of “Country Girl” and the look-out-below diesel drift of “This Highway’s Mine (Roadmaster).”

His vocals are rougher and more growly, his music is tougher, than ever before. Truth to tell, a lot of it ain’t pretty. It sure isn’t going to endear him to the Nashville set, but it just may lead the rock audience to embrace him. (MCA)

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