Steve Earle: Jerusalem (Artemis, 2002). Even in his earlier days, back when he courted the same audience that Dwight Yoakam and John Anderson used to own, Earle was sort of a rebel rouser. His class-consciousness earned him high praises from rock critics, but down in Nashville he was thought of as a light-weight Joe Ely. His addiction to heroine, combined with a propensity for shooting off his mouth, earned him a reputation as a radical. Jerusalem will certainly do nothing to quell his critics. If anything, with songs like "John Walker's Blues" and the title track, he's more likely to incite them. With a plethora of post 9/11 albums, all seeking to somehow make sense out of senseless violence, Earle's courage comes off as genuine. And even if it does cost him at the cash register - Wal-Mart has threatened not to carry the album - in the end history will be on his side. A.
Todd Snider: East Nashville Skyline (Oh Boy, 2004). America's favorite smart ass is back for more abuse. At 34 he dares call himself an old-timer, and you know what, with the personal battles he's had to endure, he probably is. Anyone who can flip off the moral majority "Conservative Christians" and cover a Guy Lombardo song "Enjoy Yourself" all in the same album is a dude on a serious mission. But what separates Snider from the rest of the pack is how he combines his humor with his anger. Like the troubadour he is, Snider brings his characters to life, and then reduces them to satirical rubble. If Loudon Wainwright came from the South, he might sound like Snider. Then again if Wainwright had hailed from the South, he might not have taken himself so seriously. Imagine, a hippie for the 21st century you can trust. A