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Country Singer Steve Earle Releases <i>Sidetracks</i> CD - 2002-06-06

Now in his second decade as a recording artist, Steve Earle is one of America's most acclaimed and respected singer-songwriters. He is also one of the more prolific. The latest result is Sidetracks, a new 13-song collection of previously-unreleased music.

Of the 13 songs on Sidetracks, seven are cover versions and two are instrumentals, leaving only four examples of Steve Earle's way with words and music. The disc opens with Some Dreams, a song written for the new baseball movie The Rookie.

Steve Earle wrote the song Some Dreams after reading the script for the movie The Rookie. The film is about Jimmy Morris, who in his late-30s discovered he could throw a baseball more than 157 kilometers an hour. Even more amazing is the fact he then signed on and pitched for two seasons in the major leagues.

Other soundtrack cuts include Open Your Window from Pay it Forward, Me And the Eagle, from The Horse Whisperer, and an alternate take of Dead Man Walking's Ellis Unit One. The version of the song that was included on the film soundtrack was a solo one. Another take features gospel greats The Fairfield Four on background vocals.

Steve Earle's music has always been hard to categorize. In the strictest sense, Steve Earle isn't a country artist. He's a roots rocker. He is a roots rocker. While his albums were released and marketed out of Nashville, his music was much harder than the 1980s-style country, and had more of a rock edge. That sound, combined with his unwillingness to conform to the rules meant that he never broke through into the mainstream.

Instead, he cultivated a dedicated cult following, drawing from both the country and rock audiences. Toward the early '90s, his career was thrown off track by personal problems and substance abuse. But in the mid-'90s, he re-emerged stronger and healthier. After releasing a successful bluegrass album with The Del McCoury band, Steve Earle began touring and recording with his own roots band "The Bluegrass Dukes," featuring Tim O'Brien and Darrell Scott. Sidetracks features three songs performed with the group, including Lowell George's Willin'.

It's not often that a rarities package like Sidetracks stands up on it's own, but that is the case here. Almost every track is a hidden or lost gem, showing the versatility that is often overlooked when considering Steve Earle's work. For too many years, the public has dwelled upon his time in prison and his troubles with drug addiction, rather than his role as a modern-day troubadour.

The two instrumentals on Sidetracks were intended for inclusion on Steve's 2000 release Transcendental Blues. One was recorded with The Bluegrass Dukes. The other, Dominick Street, was recorded in Dublin, Ireland, with Sharon Shannon and her band, The Woodchoppers. Steve Earle describes the song as "the sound of joy."