, the title of Steve Earle's latest record, could well serve as a description of his entire body of work. Even though Earle's fan base -- shitkickers, hillbillies, and rednecks -- is as working-class as they come, his music is as sublime and poetic as anything by, say, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, or Bob Dylan. Born in Virginia but raised in Texas, Earle has lived hard and fast since working as a backing musician in Guy Clark's band and then becoming a songwriter in Nashville (where he fit in like a square peg in a round hole). Earle eventually formed his own band and began recording his own material in the mid-'80s, but personal problems (he's had numerous run-ins with the law and been married more times than you can count on one hand) have undoubtedly contributed to his wayward career (he's been on and off several labels). Still, Earle has never backed down, and his output since sobering up in 1996 has been as strong as anything he's done; 1999's The Mountain
, an album he did with the Del McCoury Band, was a terrific bluegrass homage, and last year's Transcendental Blues
is solid from start to finish, even if there are a few rough patches along the way. The string arrangement on "The Boy Who Never Cried," for example, doesn't quite work, but the Pogues-meet-Bill Monroe jangle of "The Galway Girl" and the jealous sneer of "Everyone's in Love With You" are vintage Earle.