Steve Earle is America's finest singer-songwriter of a certain middle-age. From his astonishing debut album, Guitar Town, through Jerusalem, the best musical encapsulation of the terror-filled Twenty-Worst Century, he continues to deliver. The manic polymath acts (Treme, The Wire), agitates (against the death penalty and landmines) and hosts a radio show (Hardcore Troubadour on SiriusXM). Like Dylan and Cohen, he's a word artist whose command of language shines beyond song. His 2001 short-story collection, Doghouse Roses, was consistently engaging and his debut novel, I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive, is even better. The title's taken from the prophetic last record released by Hank Williams at the end of the hillbilly martyr's short lifetime. Earle's story follows junkie croaker Doc Ebersole, who was rumored to have given Hank his hot shot. There's addiction, guilt, redemption and mortality, shaped by the author's steady gaze and stark language. He'll read from the book tonight and sign copies afterwards. By the way, his latest platter, same name as the novel, is another winner. All thumbs up.
Sun., May 22, 5 p.m., 2011