foo

Steve Earle & The Dukes – Tickets – Revolution Hall – Portland, OR – August 14th, 2017

Steve Earle & The Dukes

Revolution Hall Presents

Steve Earle & The Dukes

The Mastersons

Mon, August 14, 2017

Doors: 7:00 pm / Show: 8:00 pm

$35 ADV / $38 DOS

This event is 21 and over

GA Partially Seated 

Steve Earle & The Dukes
Steve Earle & The Dukes
Almost twenty years ago, Steve Earle and I took a ride through South Nashville. It was down those mean streets that Steve had spent his famous "hiatus" in the early 1990's mostly shooting dope. It was a crazy, unprecedented thing. Here was a guy – the supposed "new face" of outlaw country – who had already put out a near unbroken string of instant classics, including chart hits like "Guitar Town," "Someday," and the immortal "Copperhead Road." And he just up and disappears, drops from sight for four years, making no records, playing no shows. Many thought he was dead.

By the time we met, Steve was on the way back, through his sixty-day stint in the Davidson County Jail, firmly in recovery. He'd already released a couple new discs, the masterly acoustic Train A Comin' and the defiantly electric I Feel Alright. But you could tell, he wasn't all the way back. Clean and sober can be a transitory thing, the ghosts of the old days are far from fully vanquished, if they ever will be. Steve wasn't sure he wanted any more of South Nashville, but being Steve, which is to be an adventurer and a sport, he agreed to take the tour.

"This is Lewis Street," Steve said as we turned right off Fain. The neighborhood hadn't changed all that much since Steve holed up there, listening to Dr. Dre's The Chronic on a near permanent loop. A number of local denizens were killing time on the corner, craning their heads to see if these particular white boys were buyers or cops. But I was already familiar with Lewis Street from the tune "South Nashville Blues," which appears on I Feel Alright.

"The Devil lives on Lewis Street, I swear, I seen him rocking in his rocking chair," the song goes, prefaced by one of the hundred or so all-time great Steve Earle lines, "I took my pistol and a hundred dollar bill, I had everything I needed to get me killed." A bit of old-timey shuffle, "South Nashville Blues" was very definitely a blues song. This was a little unusual, Steve told me back in 1996. "Because I don't play a lot of blues tunes. I don't think I'm really that good at them."

This is a perhaps not so roundabout way to getting to Steve Earle's newest collection of songs, the sixteenth studio album of his singular career. It is called Terraplane, and as those familiar with the Robert Johnson song should know, it is very much a blues album, a very good, typically heartfelt blues album. "I've gotten a lot better at playing blues since then," Steve told me the other day, as we sat in the Greenwich Village apartment where he's lived for the past several years since moving to New York. He had to get better, Steve said, because if you grew up in Texas during the 1960's and 70's playing blues is a serious matter. The bar, Steve said, "is very high." It is always fun to sit around and talk about music with Steve Earle. You may need a crowbar to get a word in edgewise once SE gets rolling, but he does tend to say some interesting stuff. In this case he explained that, as far as he knew from his own travels and such compatriots as his great inspiration Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, and 1,000 bar room pickers, there were two epicenters of Texas blues in the pre-Led Zep days. "There was Fort Worth where the model was Freddy King, and there was the Houston scene which was dominated by Lightnin' Hopkins. Two very different styles," Steve reported. Steve saw both of these giants, but mostly received their message as channeled through the soul of some of the most formidable synthesizers in pop history. "Johnny Winter, Jimmy and Stevie Vaughn, Canned Heat. Billy Gibbons. Billy fucking Gibbons. He's a monster, always was. He'd do Lightnin' but really loud." Steve said. "These were people we heard at that time and there was no doubt it was the real thing – you can never tell me Bob Hite was not a bluesman." This was all well and good, especially since Steve's guitar player, Chris Masterson, raised on that same Texas soil, can really kick the shit out of the stuff. But the question was, why now? Why was Steve making a blues record now?

Steve twirled at the fringes of his beard. He got that sort of cramped accusative tone and asked, "you saying I made a blues record because I'm getting divorced?" "Well, that's what everyone is going to think."

Steve's voice rose. "I know that's what they'll think! And they won't be wrong...but it is a little more complicated than that."

This was, of course quite true. When you've been married seven different times to six different women, that's some Chinese math right there. The odd thing is that out of the dozens of tremendous tunes Steve Earle has written over the past 35 years very few have been break-up songs. Asked about it, Steve couldn't even think of one himself. "I don't want to waste songs on girls that are going. I'd rather save them for girls that are coming," he said.

In matters of the heart, Steve Earle has always been an optimist. There are several better-known tunes on the "Guitar Town" album, but when it comes to young(er) love all you really need is "Fearless Heart." With Whitmanesque exaltation of his own resiliency, the singer sings: "I got me a fearless heart/ strong enough to get you through the scary part/ its been broken many times before/ a fearless heart just comes back for more." Whatever happens, he'll bounce back; all previous failures are only recon so as to guide His Own True Love Of the Moment across the "scary part." Back then, Steve had faith in his ability to fall in love again, no matter what. It was a strange dichotomy. With an unmatched talent to describe the heartbreaking (as with the doomed Billy Austin, "twenty-nine years old, quarter Cherokee I'm told") the singer largely avoided his own heartbreak. So what's different now? Why have we suddenly been given a sardonic if playful kiss-off number like "Go Go Boots Are Back Again," which might be Steve's "Leopard Skin Pill Box Hat." The same question could be asked about an elegiac shuffle like "Best Lover I Ever Had," with its sexually-charged lament, "never had another kiss taste like that/you're the best lover I ever had." And what can be made of "Better Off Alone," a mournful cry of the newly adrift that Steve says represents "completely unchartered territory for me, and probably the best song on the record partially for that reason."

"Everyone talks about how many times I've been married. They don't talk about how many times I've been divorced, maybe that's what this record is about," Steve remarked. "I mean, I thought I had it pretty much licked. I had a little bit of money in the bank for the first in my life. I'd been married for longer than I ever had been. Allison (his last wife, singer Allison Moorer) and I were together for eight and a half years. None of my other marriages had lasted more than three or four. We had this great little kid. I thought, okay this is how it is supposed to be. It was the only time I'd ever married when I was sober. Those other marriages were in the 80's when I was using. After that, I lived with people but I didn't marry them. I didn't think I was ready. Then, I thought I was and it didn't work out."

"I knew I'd make a blues record back when I was doing the Low Highway. Fucking weird, doing the sessions of that record – Allison's on it but we were really coming apart. After that, I spent a long time on the road, a lot of time by myself. I wrote a third of Terraplane on tour in Europe, five weeks traveling around alone with just a guitar, a mandolin and backpack. I needed to be by myself and I needed to see if I could do it. Songs like `Better Off Alone' came out of that."

"I'm still alone, so I'm thinking maybe that's just the way its gonna be for me. I'm still an optimist but like I don't have a lot of optimism about current politics, maybe I have less about relationships. That's what I'm telling myself right now, anyway. I'm feeling pressed for time. I'm going to be sixty years old. I've got a four-year-old son. I have no idea how things are going to turn out for him. I have to make sure he's kind of set up. My father died when he was 74. I'll probably outlive him but you know, you just want to make it all count."

"I'm patient, but I'm focused. There's a lot to do. I'd like to write a musical, I'm working on a country record. I think a lot people this age feel like this. And if there's one thing I know about songwriting, it doesn't matter if it's a love song, a song for my kid, or about an issue, something I saw on TV – people don't give a fuck what I think about it, what they do give a fuck about is what experiences we have in common. As a songwriter, that's where I want to go, to touch that place between me and you."

Then, simply because Steve has too much hellraiser in him to leave it like that, he invoked the name of Willie Dixon, writer of some of the greatest modern blues songs, tunes like "Back Door Man," "Hoochie Coochie Man," "Spoonful," "You Can't Judge A Book By The Cover," which were recorded by people like Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf and Bo Diddley. Asked why he wrote and played the blues, Dixon, three hundred pounds and crusty sharp, reputedly said, "money and women, what else is there?"

This was as good an answer as any, Steve remarked with a laugh. Because when it comes down to it – and to the great benefit of Steve Earle's many admirers – it's only so long that an honest man can avoid playing the blues.

– Mark Jacobson, Brooklyn, NY
The Mastersons
The Mastersons
"The first thing people usually ask us is 'What's it like as a husband and wife playing music together?,'" says Chris Masterson. "We always say that the lows are low, but the highs are really high."

There are plenty of highs on Good Luck Charm, the second album by The Mastersons, the collaboration that Chris shares with his marital and musical partner Eleanor Whitmore. Generously filled with infectious melodies, instinctive harmonies and vividly insightful lyrics, Good Luck Charm embodies the uncanny rapport that singer- guitarist Chris and singer-violinist-guitarist Eleanor have developed in their experiences living, touring and making music together.

The Austin, TX-based duo's lilting songcraft and charismatic chemistry have already won over listeners around the world, thanks to the couples ongoing status as members of Steve Earle's band The Dukes, their frequent opening sets for Earle, and their critically-lauded 2012 debut album, Birds Fly South.

Although Good Luck Charm is the Mastersons' second album, in many ways it's their first full-on collaboration. Whereas Birds Fly South consisted largely of songs that they'd composed individually, all of Good Luck Charm's material was co-written by Chris and Eleanor, giving the material added depth as well as a powerful collective lyrical identity that's matched by their expressive harmonies.

"This is a more purpose-driven record," Eleanor states. "The first record was kind of his/hers, but this one is entirely ours."

"Playing a few hundred shows has really solidified us as a band and focused our vision for the new record," Chris observes. "Every song is crafted for the two of us. When we made Birds Fly South, it just seamed like a good idea to do a record. Now we know it is."

Good Luck Charm – recorded with noted producer/engineer Jim Scott, whose resume includes work with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Wilco and the Dixie Chicks – raises the stakes with 11 emotionally precise new songs that are firmly rooted in sometimes-harsh reality, yet which radiate with hope and optimism.

"It's cautiously optimistic," Eleanor says of the twosome's new material, adding, "I think we tried to steer the songs in a direction that was a little more positive and a little more upbeat. Our last record had a lot of broken-character songs, but I think that this one reflects the place we're in now."

Good Luck Charm's title track, for example, is an uplifting ode to human connection that was originally inspired by the pairs visit to the Texas state capitol during Sen. Wendy Davis' pro-choice filibuster in June 2013.

"It was really striking," Chris recalls, "how many people we saw there – friends, family, all kinds of people from our community. It was so powerful to be around a bunch of people trying to speak up for what they believe in."

"This isn't meant to be a political album, but there are definitely some tracks that touch on that," Eleanor asserts. "But it's meant to be galvanizing, not polarizing. In the current political climate, people are frustrated and feel like they don't have a voice, but I know from experience that if people organize and speak up, they can make a difference. That's what that song's about."

Elsewhere on Good Luck Charm, "Uniform," "Anywhere But Here" and "Cautionary Tale" offer a sublime blend of unflinching honesty and heartfelt positivity, while the heart-tugging "I Found You" and "Easy by Your Side" poignantly celebrate enduring romance with sensitivity and humor.

"'Cautionary Tale' took us a couple of years to write, and it's one that a lot of people seem to be responding to," Eleanor offers. "It's a cautionary tale for the digital age, where people are trying to numb themselves from their jobs or their struggles. There's a lot of loneliness out there, but it's important to connect with people. That's a theme that comes up a lot in these songs."

Denton, TX-born Eleanor and Houston-bred Chris have both been making music for most of their lives. Eleanor, the daughter of an opera-singer mother and a folk singer/airline pilot father, began playing fiddle at the age of four and studied with legendary Texas fiddler Johnny Gimble, and she and her sister Bonnie (now a respected singer- songwriter in her own right) played in the family band. Chris, meanwhile, was a teen guitar prodigy, playing the blues in Houston clubs by the age of 13.

Both future partners had considerable success as instrumentalists-for-hire, with Eleanor backing the likes of Regina Spektor, Kelly Willis, Diana Ross and Will Hoge, and Chris playing with Son Volt, Jack Ingram, Bobby Bare Jr. and Wayne Hancock. After meeting at a festival in Colorado in 2005, each released a solo project – Eleanor's Airplanes and Chris' The Late Great Chris Masterson – but eventually found more satisfaction in writing, performing and recording together. After a five-year stint living in Brooklyn, they realized that there was little point paying to live in New York when they were spending most of their time on tour, and relocated to the more hospitable environs of Austin. By then, they were already touring and recording with Steve Earle, performing together on numerous Earle tours and playing on his acclaimed album The Low Highway.

"Playing with Steve has been great for us," Eleanor says. "For one thing, he's an amazing songwriter, so that kind of holds us to a certain standard. He's also a great storyteller, and that's taught us a lot about relating to an audience. One thing we've learned in touring with Steve is that people remember the stories that you tell as much as the songs you sing. If you make them laugh or make them cry, they take that home with them as much as they would a song."

"You learn something different from every artist you work with," Chris adds, "whether it's how they handle the crowd or how they write songs or how they handle rehearsing or recording. We've accumulated all of this experience in our time working with other artists and I'm grateful for it."

While Chris and Eleanor have learned a lot from Steve Earle, they themselves are an integral part of his band. "Chris is the best guitar player that's ever been in this band and Eleanor's a better musician than any of us," exclaims Earle.

Chris and Eleanor wrote most of Good Luck Charm while on tour with Earle, stealing whatever time they could to work on the songs. "We spent a lot of time hiding out in dressing rooms with our guitars," Chris notes. "On our days off, we didn't go out or do anything fun; we were just holed up in hotel rooms writing these tunes."

"It was a challenge," Eleanor adds, "but having a deadline lit a fire under us, and I think that some of that urgency is reflected in the songs."

By then, they'd found a sympathetic ear in producer Jim Scott, whose clear, unfussed production spotlights the strengths of Good Luck Charm's songs and the honesty of the Mastersons' performances. "Jim was high on our list of dream producers," Eleanor states, "so when he said he was interested in working with us, we packed up the van and the dog and drove out to California, and recorded and mixed the record with Jim in 15 days. It was a tall order, but he made it easy."

"We've always loved the way Jim's records sound," Chris adds. "They always sound organic, without a lot of trickery or bells and whistles. After working with him, I can say that his records come out sounding as good as they do as the cumulative effect of a series of good decisions. He has a real ability to get the best out of every performance, and he got it to sound good without us ever having to spend four hours playing ping-pong while he got a snare sound."

Jim Scott stated, "Chris and Eleanor might be the hardest working husband and wife team in the business. They had a great spirit in the studio, pushing themselves and each other to greatness in every phase of the recording process. From the songwriting to the live performances, they are true professionals that bring joy to music."

With Good Luck Charm under their belt, The Mastersons plan to promote it in the best way they know how: by getting in front of people and singing and playing together.

"At some point, we got to a place where it felt like the shows we were playing had really started to connect with people on an emotional level," Chris observes, adding, "I think all the success we've had out on the road comes through on Good Luck Charm."

"We're really lucky," he concludes. "We get to get out of bed every day and write a song or go play a show together, which is pretty much all that we've ever wanted out of life."