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From Guitar Town to The Low Highway: Steve Earle’s Transcendental Genres

Nick Baxter-Moore (Brock University)
Presentation type: 

Once greeted as the potential saviour of a then-moribund country music industry with the release of his debut album Guitar Town in 1986, Steve Earle formally bid farewell to Nashville two decades later with the burden line “Goodbye guitar town” in his song “Tennessee Blues” from Washington Square Serenade (2007). But Earle had departed country music – or it had left him – many years before his move from Tennessee to New York. Even before his so-called “vacation in the ghetto” in the early 1990s, when an ongoing drug problem saw him dropped by his label and eventually resulted in jail time, he had explored the potential of country music to encompass hard rock, western swing, celtic punk and the kind of socially-conscious content more usually associated with “folk” musicians. Since his return to writing and recording in the mid-1990s, Earle has continued to explore and exploit multiple genres of popular music, from blues and bluegrass to Tex-Mex and turntablism. At the same time, his three Grammy awards (all won in the last decade) and five of his ten Grammy nominations have been garnered in the category of “folk” or “contemporary folk” music, which may tell us as much about the vagaries of music awards as it does about Earle’s music. In this paper, I will explore Steve Earle’s musical eclecticism and consider ways to categorize his more recent work, including his 2013 album, The Low Highway.

About the presenter

Nick Baxter-Moore

Nick Baxter-Moore is Associate Professor in the Department of Communication, Popular Culture & Film at Brock University, St Catharines, Ontario. He is a former chair of the department and former associate dean in the Faculty of Social Sciences at Brock. His teaching and research interests lie in the areas of popular culture theory and research methods, popular music, local popular culture, and borderlands studies.

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