When Steve Earle releases Sidetracks -- a collection of odds and sods -- on April 9th, fans of the songwriter will get the usual smattering of rock, country, bluegrass and reggae they've come to expect, and then something they might not see coming. Included alongside B-sides and Earle's movie soundtrack contributions is a cover of Nirvana's "Breed," recorded for the Japanese version of his last album (2000's Transcendental Blues) and as a surprise for Artemis Records head and former Nirvana manager Danny Goldberg.
"We cut 'Breed' one night at the end of a session, did it in one take," Earle says. "And we sent it up when we sent the rest of the record, and I don't think he [Goldberg] even heard it. It was two or three listenings before he finally got through the whole record and realized it."
"There's very few things going on that are that important in music," Earle says of Nirvana. "That doesn't happen very often. It's one of those things, what the fuck would [Kurt Cobain] be doing now? He had a real rock band with real songs, and that hadn't happened in a long time."
Several songs on Sidetracks were available previously in alternate forms as part of movie soundtracks, including "Ellis Unit One" (from Dead Man Walking) and the Chambers Brothers' "Time Has Come Today" (Steal This Movie), a duet with Sheryl Crow. "She's a really, really good producer," Earle says of Crow. "I love her records. I think they're incredibly well put together and that part of it, the vision is all hers. I love working with her."
Earle's take on Bob Dylan's "My Back Pages" (also for Steal This Movie) comes from a demo he'd recorded for Joan Osborne and Jackson Browne to sing over. "The key had been predetermined for Joan and Jackson, and it was way fucking high for me," he says. "That's the first-take track vocal and I just love the way it sounds, like my head was going to blow off."
"Sara's Angel" and "Dominick St." are two instrumentals that were conceived for inclusion on Transcendental Blues but neither made the final cut. "I sequenced them in, and they just diluted that record for some reason," he says. "It was too much material to get your head around. I'm glad I'm getting 'em out because I dig 'em and I'm proud of 'em."
Earle is halfway through a new rock album, and he expects to release it by Christmas. "It's a very, very, very political record," he says. "There's no reason to write songs about girls right now."
Sidetracks track listing:
"Open Your Window"
"Me and the Eagle"
"Johnny Too Bad" with the V-Roys
"Time Has Come Today" with Sheryl Crow
"Ellis Unit One" with the Fairfield Four
"Creepy Jackalope Eye" with the Supersuckers
"My Back Pages"