Tulsa gets a rare treat this week when The Brady Theater hosts a double featuring John Hiatt and the Combos and Steve Earle and the Dukes this Thursday night. While both have made their names with gritty and honest songwriting with roots in Americana, the two have arguably been kindred spirits, although they have walked separate creative paths. Their similarities promise to outshine their differences, however, when they share the same stage and let their music do the talking this week.
John Hiatt is no stranger to Tulsa, as this is his third stop at Brady Theater following an evening that saw him share the stage and trade songs with Lyle Lovett in November 2011 and a previous "songwriter's circle" tour with Lovett, Joe Ely and Guy Clark a few years earlier. Instead of watching Hiatt sit with an acoustic guitar and tell stories, however, Tulsa finally gets a long-awaited visit from Hiatt with his band, the Combo, for a night that will let him not only share his more intimate tunes, but also show his rock side as well.
It's been years since Tulsa got a glimpse of Hiatt with his band and early reviews from the tour indicated that fans will be rewarded with a smoldering show that hits on nearly all of Hiatt's hits, a few tracks from his new album, Mystic Pinball, and a few "deep tracks" from a career that extends over 35 years 21 studio albums.
If you think that span has slowed Hiatt down, you can think again. Sure, he might have mellowed a bit over the years and may not be quite as cynical as his younger self, but he's still got a dry wit, a gift for writing with keen sense of observation and big hooks, and the ability to deliver with a wicked grin and growl that hasn't lost its edge.
With Mystic Pinball, Hiatt has actually stepped up with fitting sequel to 2011's Dirty Jeans and Mudslide Hymns, which the New York Times declared "His best since '95," referring back to his Grammy nominated album, Walk On.
Chances are, even if you haven't followed Hiatt, you know his style and lyrics. As one of the most prolific songwriters of the past four decades, his songs have been recorded by everyone from Emmylou Harris and Bonnie Raitt to Buddy Guy, Ronnie Milsap, Jeff Healey Band, Iggy Pop and The Neville Brothers.
Ironically, although Hiatt has earned critical acclaim, Grammy nominations and a loyal following, he had only had a handful of modest hits in his own. His only top ten single came in 1988's "Slow Turning," which was also his first album to reach the top half of the Billboard Top 200 album chart. In turn, his biggest hits have actually been recorded by other artists. Nevertheless, Hiatt has soldiered on with his own vision to become a highly respected artist and songwriter in his own right, mixing rock, blues and Americana.
Much like Hiatt, Steve Earle has had a storied tenure in the music industry as well. Although his debut EP was released in 1982, his breakthrough came with Guitar Town in '86. That album landed at the top of the Billboard country album charts, earned Earle two Grammy nominations (Best Male Vocalist and Best Country Song), and established Earle as a leader of the "New Country" movement. Earle only followed the country mold for one more album, Exit 0, before forging his own path.
With his signature album, Copperhead Road (released in '88), Earle took the reins to follow his own vision, taking part in production as well as infusing the album with a hard rock punch. This was also the album where he started addressing politics head on, addressing the war on drugs, leadership, the experiences and reception of returning veterans, and poverty and homelessness in the US.
Twelve albums and 25 years later, Earle remains at the top of his game, mixing country and folk elements with rock attitudes and delivery. Although Jerusalem (released in 2002) created a controversy with Earle's anti-war and anti-death penalty stance, he never backed down, defending his views on patriotism and terrorism with a number of appearances on news and editorial programs. His 2004 The Revolution Starts Now won Earle his first of three Grammy awards for Best Contemporary Folk Album.
Subsequent Grammy awards were won in the same category for 2007's Washington Square Serenade and 2009's Townes, a tribute to Earle's musical hero and early mentor, Townes Van Zandt, whose influence can be heard and felt throughout Earle's catalog of work.
Aside from being a musician, Earle has proven to be a renaissance man of sorts, earning recognition as an actor with a number of movies and television appearances. Perhaps most notable among those were roles in the HBO series The Wire as well as Treme, appearances on Law & Order and a key role in the Tim Blake Nelson's 2009 movie, Leaves of Grass.
In addition, Earle became a published author in 2011, releasing his debut novel; I'll Never Get Out Of This World Alive, accompanying an album of the same title which earned him yet another Grammy nomination. Response to his first foray into writing drew positive reviews as well, with Patti Smith stating "Steve Earle brings to his prose the same authenticity, poetic spirit and cinematic energy he projects in his music. 'I'll Never Get Out Of This World Alive' is like a dream you can't shake..." A forthcoming novel and memoir are due to follow, but Earle has never escaped his musical roots and muse.
His latest album, The Low Highway, was released in the spring and has again received overwhelmingly positive reviews for touching on all of his musical influences and drawing them together in once cohesive whole, with his storytelling and folk flourishes meeting a world, rock torn voice that has been declared by some to be his best record since The Revolution Starts Now.
Amidst all of the creative shifts and critical acclaim, Earle continues to make his biggest impact with his live show and he continues to tour with his band, The Dukes, which now includes husband and wife duo Chris Masterson and Eleanor Whitmore (otherwise known as The Mastersons), along with longtime Dukes Kelley Looney and Will Rigby.
Even with the changes within the band over the years, The Dukes continue to give Earle's songs and added dynamic punch, whether providing the delicate folk nuances of his latest work or the thundering punch of "Copperhead Road." Somewhere in the midst of it, Earle's lyrics tie it all together.
And that's where Earle and Hiatt continue to intertwine -- as master songwriters and storytellers. Much like Hiatt, Earle's songs have been recorded by a barrage of artists ranging from Johnny Cash and Emmylou Harris to The Pretenders and even Joan Baez. Regardless of who records the songs, however, Earle's vision and lyricism shines through at each turn.
This Thursday night, September 19, Hiatt and Earle will each have their turn presenting their respective catalogs on the Brady Stage and although you may have ever put the two together previously, chances are their styles and songwriting will remain intertwined in your thoughts for years to come after this show. As of press time, a limited number of tickets remained for $35 and $45 for a night that will allow two great songwriters to shine on their own, as well as together.
Send all comments and feedback regarding Music to ghizer@urbantulsa.
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