By James Calemine

Produced by T-Bone Burnett, eleven original Steve Earle songs comprise I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive. Earle named this album after a Hank Williams song. According to Earle’s liner notes: “These songs were written during a three year period (the longest span of any song cycle in my career) beginning a few weeks before my Dad’s passing in December 2007 and ending in October 2010.” Earle also wrote about these songs: “They are all, as far as I can tell, about mortality in one way or the other…”

Recorded in Los Angeles and New Orleans last year, lush instrumentation grace these songs. Allen Toussaint arranged the horns on this collection. “Waitin’ On The Sky” opens the disc with an upbeat country-rocker. It’s evident Earle spent time writing these lyrics because there’s a depth to the message that you hear after each listen.

“Little Emperor”, a mandolin and fiddle-laced number, serves as a great laid-back rock and roll ditty. “The Gulf of Mexico” demonstrates the power of Earle’s vocals and his songcraft that tell a story: “My Daddy drove a boat haulin’ workers to the rigs/He was sick of mendin’ nets and couldn’t stand the smell of fish/So he drew a steady paycheck twenty years from Texaco/When he died we spread his ashes on the Gulf of Mexico.”

“Molly O” ranks as a spooky number. The banjo and fiddle provide musical color to this story of losing one’s soul for the love of a woman. “God Is God” stands as a great song, and it’s evident Earle spent a great amount of time pondering the mysterious ways of this mean old world. “Meet Me In The Alleyway” emerges as one of my favorite songs on this disc. This tune reminds me of a Tom Waits songs from Mule Variations.

“Lonely Are The Free” is a fine song that emits an emotive quality in the quiet, underplayed manner of musical intent. “Heaven Or Hell” exists as the centerpiece song of I’ll Never Get Out of Here Alive. Earle sings the song with his wife Allison Moorer, and it’s a great composition. To hear them sing “I’m rollin’ down a blacktop highway/Hole in my chest cause my heart’s in your hand” pays for the price of this CD.

“I’m A Wanderer” adheres to the folk side of musical storytelling, and Earle’s lyrics contain a universal appeal. The final cut,  “This City” tells a story with vivid imagery regarding New Orleans such as “This city won’t wash away/This city won’t ever drown/Blood in the water and hell to pay/Doesn’t matter cause come what may/I ain’t ever gonna leave this town/This city won’t wash away/But this city won’t ever drown.”

I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive contends as one of Steve Earle’s finest releases.