Steve Earle quietly announced he was back in action and capable of making substantial, heartfelt music again with his 1994 acoustic album Train a Comin', but on 1995's I Feel Alright Earle showed he was truly back in fighting shape, and from the album's first moments he sounds ready to roar and holds nothing back. While Earle's battle with drug abuse and his brief stay in prison aren't explicitly addressed on this album (except on the harrowing "CCKMP," in which Earle confesses "cocaine cannot kill my pain" and "heroin is the only thing/the only gift the darkness brings"), the hurt brought to himself and others by his betrayals runs through many of these songs, sometimes with humor ("Hard Core Troubadour"), sometimes with regret ("Valentine's Day"), and sometimes with a painful self-awareness ("Hurtin' Me, Hurtin' You" and "The Unrepentant"). But I Feel Alright isn't about addiction and loss so much as recovery and starting over again, and if the songs often concern Earle's misdeeds, the strength of the music finds him confronting his demons without flinching and conjuring up some of the powerfully muscular rock and affecting country of his life. And like Train a Comin', I Feel Alright shows Earle finding the courage and confidence to make a record just the way he wants, and this may be Earle's finest hour in the studio -- the production is tough, resonant, and a perfect match for the material, the players bring their A game without showboating, and Earle's rough but passionate vocals are pure, honest, and direct on every cut. I Feel Alright affirmed that Steve Earle's brush with oblivion had not only failed to silence him, but he was a more courageous artist when he came out the other side, and no one who has heard this record is likely to argue that point.
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