There are only to types of Steve Earle albums: They’re either good or they’re great. With So You Wannabe an Outlaw, Earle gives us another one of his great ones. It features plenty of traditional elements, such as upfront fiddle and steel guitar parts, yet it’s also loud and rocking at the same time.
The album’s title track drops a little hard-won wisdom on listeners, as it warns against consequences of the renegade lifestyle. The real life former outlaw (Earle) is joined vocally by an icon of the outlaw country music era, Willie Nelson. If you choose to be an outlaw, we’re told, you can’t take it with you when you go and you can’t go home while you’re alive. In other words, this isn’t a wise move for anyone. The album’s first single, “Lookin’ for a Woman,” finds Earle seeking a partner that won’t break his heart. He sings it over a rumbling space cowboy groove worthy of The Flying Burrito Brothers.
A few other high-profile guests also lend their voices to Earle’s new one. Johnny Bush sings the Los Angeles blues with Steve during “Walkin’ in LA,” while Miranda Lambert helps describe the end of a relationship on “This Is How It Ends.” Earle has written a bevy of fine songs, which are as country in content as they are stubbornly country musically. “If Mama Coulda Seen Me” presents a mother that would surely weep over her son’s prison sentence, and “The Girl on the Mountain” reads like a bluegrass lyric portraying the girl that may always wait for this man.
Earle is fully inspired throughout, especially during the bluesy murder rant, “Fixin’ to Die.” With all its fine songs, So You Wannabe an Outlaw is one album Earle fans will return to again and again.