Elbowing his way into the spotlight like Bruce Springsteen's redneck cousin, Steve Earle emerged in March 1986 armed with potent lyrics, melodic instincts, and a big chip on his shoulder in an uncerta

Elbowing his way into the spotlight like Bruce Springsteen's redneck cousin, Steve Earle emerged in March 1986 armed with potent lyrics, melodic instincts, and a big chip on his shoulder in an uncertain country music environment. Even with 16 years of perspective, Guitar Town is a damn-near-flawless album, with Earle's well-drawn, semi-autobiographical characters striving for greatness, love, and security in the face of poverty, class prejudice, and their own self-destructive impulses. The struggling musician of the title cut, with his "two-pack habit and motel tan," views the quest for stardom as a glorious means to a settled end, while the outsider grease monkey of "Someday" sees a muscle car as his only chance to escape obscurity. The singer often seems resigned to failure, whether in romance ("Goodbye's All We Got Left to Say" and "Fearless Heart") or life itself ("Good Ol' Boy [Gettin' Tough]"). The album's quieter moments are perhaps its most brilliant, specifically the heartbreaking "My Old Friend the Blues" and the sadly reassuring lullaby, "Little Rock 'N' Roller." Digitally remastered in SACD, the album's punchy twang and strum musicality is simply pristine, and a bonus live cut of Springsteen's "State Trooper" perfectly captures that song's spooky borderline psychosis. As one of the most groundbreaking country records ever made, Guitar Town is in some ways a promise of both Earle's boundless potential and Nashville's possibilities as the Guitar Town. While Earle has more than kept his promise, Nashville, unfortunately, has not.—RW