Nearly dead and close to destitute in the early 1990s, Steve Earle ended up doing time in prison for possession of heroin. Miraculously, he turned his life around. And after departing the big house, he got back to making the renegade brand of alt-country and rock 'n' roll for which he was once known.
Starting with 1995's Train a Comin' and continuing on exceptional discs like 1996's I Feel Alright and the 1997 masterwork El Corazon, Earle has been on a writing tear that has not subsided.
After flirting with bluegrass by teaming with the Del McCoury Band on last year's The Mountain, he gets into a far more sizzling mode on much of Transcendental Blues.
In fact, the album-opening title track has a psychedelic edge to it, as does the next cut, "Everyone's in Love with You," which arrives complete with circa-1967 backwards sound effects.
But soon after, Earle falls into a more comfortable but still cookin' groove that's not unlike the sound on most of his post-prison recordings. Songs like "Wherever I Go" and "Another Town" mix acoustic and electric textures seamlessly, and Earle's voice is at its raggedy best in others such as the harmonica-wailin' duet with his sister Stacy, "When I Fall."
He also gets some other help along the way as well, particularly from the great Irish accordionist Sharon Shannon, whose band helps lift "Steve's Last Ramble" and "The Galway Girl."