Steve Earle, “Baby Baby Baby (Baby)” from Terraplane (2015): One Track Mind

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Steve Earle’s forthcoming Terraplane echoes 1999’s The Mountain in that it pulls apart and then acutely examines one of the bedrock elements of his sound. Back then, we found him exploring the lonesome whine of bluegrass with the Del McCoury Band. With “Baby Baby Baby (Baby),” the opening track from his forthcoming Terraplane, it’s a rib-sticking electric blues.

In both cases, there are new insights into Steve Earle, the songwriter, that keep him from disappearing into the concept. Here, even as he catches a chugging Howlin’ Wolf-esque groove, Earle can’t help but do it with a writerly twinkle in his eye. After all, Terraplane (due February 17, 2015 via New West Records) doesn’t begin with a song called “Baby,” or even “Baby Baby Baby.” He impishly adds yet another parenthetical.

As with the best things by Steve Earle, that works on two levels. On the one, it tells you he understands something elemental about what he’s doing here, approaching straight on a genre so steeped in tradition. He too brutally honest — with himself and with us — not to know he’s an interloper, cops to it. But on another level, it also gives the song a stirring new depth, as you keep listening. You come to appreciate all over again how performance adds pitched meaning to a good blues song, and a good Steve Earle song, too.

Each “baby” becomes something more, beginning at first like an echo of the painful harp blast that starts “Baby Baby Baby (Baby)”: In time, Earle’s inside joke transforms into all manner of things. From a painful admission, it becomes a hurt cry, a damning accusation.

And baby, that’s the best kind of blues.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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