Steve Earle 

Jerusalem (Artemis/E-squared)

Yes, this is the CD that contains "John Walker's Blues," the most misunderstood song since George Will discovered "Born in the U.S.A." and decided, by virtue of its title, that it was a patriotic anthem. The cut is a first-person account of what made John Walker Lindh forsake America and do what he did. Never mind that Jerusalem has yet to be released: Just seeing "John Walker" in print is enough of a call to arms for Fox News, The New York Post, and CNN to have Earle locked up with Lindh.

Nevertheless, Jerusalem is Earle's most political album, and that's saying a lot about a man who's already given us "Ellis Unit One," "Billy Austin," and "Christmas in Washington." Subjects of these musical broadsides include baby-boomer materialism, government assaults on our privacy, and the hope for lasting peace in the Holy Land. There's also a sweet duet with Emmylou Harris ("I Remember You") and a punchy rocker co-written with Sheryl Crow ("Go Amanda"). Musically, Jerusalem isn't one of Earle's stronger efforts. A guy with his genius should be able to bang out tunes like this on a slow weekend. (Earle couldn't even make bad records when he was in the throes of heroin addiction, a dozen years ago.) But while it's no El Corazon or Transcendental Blues, it's still a jewel; the lyrics make it so vital.

If you want feel-good patriotism, Neil Young and Paul McCartney are there for you. For all the jingoists, stick to Toby Keith and Charlie Daniels. Want to be challenged to think? Jerusalem will go upside your head.

More by Steve Byrne


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