Alterna-country rocker Steve Earle packs a punch with twang

When I went home over the holidays, I made a stop to my local (local meaning 30 minutes away) Record Exchange in Charlotte to sell off some cheap and bad CDs that I’d accumulated over the years. When I was there, I noticed they’d done something new with their country music section. Where it used to be only country, there were now two sections: country and Americana.

I thought that this was a brilliant idea because, frankly, country music today isn’t country music at all. It’s watered down, poorly written pop music with lap steel guitars. For those interested in hearing music that has real roots in country, check out the Americana section, which has artists like Johnny Cash, Hank Williams and Hank the third (Hank Jr. iss a different story altogether), Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, and today’s featured live performer, Steve Earle.

Probably his best-known song, “Copperhead Road,” is one of my all-time favorites. It’s twangy, but it’s got an edge. And it’s not the usual “my wife left me, so I’m drinking with my dog, my pickup, my chewing tobacco and my shotgun,” song either. It remains to this day one of the few country-esque songs about growing pot that I’ve ever heard.

But Earle’s influences don’t only lie with country. His latest album, “Transcendental Blues,” ranges all over, from the psychedelic vibe of the title track to the merseybeat, Beatles sound of tracks like, “Everyone’s In Love With You.” He’s a master of writing songs, and playing the acoustic guitar, he’s performed at pretty much all of the Farm Aid concerts, he’s politically active with organizations for ending the death penalty and cleaning up landmines, he says the f-word and, from all reports, he delivers an awesome live show.

He’ll be bringing that live show to Asheville’s Thomas Wolfe Auditorium this Friday at 8. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster.

For those interested in getting a little background before seeing the show, I’d suggest taking a listen to the aforementioned “Transcendental Blues,” “Snake Oil Medicine Show,” or the Grammy-nominated “Train A Comin’.”