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Steve Earle with Stacey Earle 

Thursday, March 22; Pageant

Steve Earle is a damned talented songwriter, one of the best at capturing honest, heartbreaking emotion this country has seen in the past half-century. As he continues his quest of examining folk music and injecting it with his own distinct personality -- so far he's worked in the American bluegrass, country, punk and Southern-rock traditions and the Irish tradition -- one wonders where he'll end up next. Unlike most singer/songwriters, Earle stretches with every new album; he could easily and successfully bang out a dozen country songs per release and a core constituency of admirers would lap them up. But he doesn't, and it wouldn't be surprising if Earle's next album were a country version of disco and house (though, yes, it might be frightening), or his take on reggae (which he dabbled with to great effect on his version of the Slickers' "Johnny Too Bad"). With every album, you can count on two things: that the songwriting will be, for the most part, top-notch and that you will be surprised.To best understand Earle's aesthetic, check the You Can Count on Me soundtrack: Peppered with tracks swiped from his CD with the Del McCoury Band, The Mountain, and countless others from bands that appear on his fantastic record label, E-Squared, the music stretches at every turn without ending up way out in no-man's land. Too, it's the perfect soundtrack for a perfect film; both are affairs that tackle the human condition without a bunch of bells and whistles -- just a confident simplicity, one that humbly addresses problems familiar to all while successfully reworking them enough to brand them as unique and engaging.

Also performing will be Earle's sister Stacey Earle, who has managed to sneak out from under her brother's shadow and create remarkable country music.

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