Transcendental Blues

Steve Earle is all over the map on his new album, and not just Tennessee or even the South. Transcendental Blues is an intermittently twangy, often trippy and, yes, generally transcendent outing. The perspicacious Earle references Indian music on the title track, a droning, modal blues for the ages, and assays a Celtic-bluegrass hybrid on "The Galway Girl," cementing a kind of stylistic mother-and-child reunion that sounds both natural and novel. Earle travels along the temporal dimension to the Sixties for the harp-happy Dylanesque romp "Steve's Last Ramble," and the garage-rocking "All of My Life" evincing a masterful understanding of an unwritten rule of the latter genre: The worse it's played, the better it sounds. Keep digging into Transcendental Blues and you'll hit straight-up bluegrass ("Until the Day I Die"), a Springsteen-by-way-of-the-Byrds confessional ("I Don't Want to Lose You Yet") and a sobering acoustic meditation on a death-row prisoner's final hours ("Over Yonder [Jonathan's Song]"). There's even some basic uncut Steve Earle in a handful of restless ("Another Town") and haunted ("Lonelier Than This") numbers cut from rootsy, plain-spoken cloth. Still, Earle keeps his material hewed to a basic theme — the universality of the blues — and finds that home truth everywhere his muse takes him. In his own words, it all comes down to this: "Everybody wants to be somebody's somethin'/Ain't nobody wants to be blue."