Review – Steve Earle’s “Mississippi, It’s Time”

Steve Earle
Photo Credit: Dirk Hansen, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license, no changes made

Throughout 2015 there has been no shortage of controversial and polarizing topics in America. One of the hottest issues has been about the confederate flag, what it means and where it should be displayed. Will Hoge tackled the issue with his song “Still A Southern Man,” which I thought was a fair and passionate take. Now we have another take from alt-country artist Steve Earle, who certainly isn’t one to shy away from voicing his thoughts on issues. This isn’t the first new music we’ve heard from Earle in 2015, as earlier this year he released a new album titled Terraplane. While we didn’t get a chance to review it on here, I did listen to it and I thought it was a very solid album of bluesy, country music. And now his newest song is “Mississippi, It’s Time.”

Now before I break the song down, you should probably know where Earle is coming from with this song and who he is targeting this towards. This is what Earle said in a statement regarding the song:

“I grew up in the South and lived there until I was 50,” Earle says in a statement, “and I know that I’m not the only Southerner who never believed for one second that the Confederate battle flag is symbolic of anything but racism in anything like a modern context. [This song] is about giving those southerners a voice.” 

So with this in mind, I take a look at “Mississippi, It’s Time.” The song squarely targets the state of Mississippi and its current display of the stars and bars in front of the state capital. Earle calls for them to take it down and its past time to do so. He points out how both South Carolina and Alabama have already done it and how Mississippi needs to follow their lead. But this is just the surface of the song. Earle goes even deeper, as he sings about slavery, racism, the Civil War and making progression afterwards. The lines that stood out to me the most were the following:

Look away Mississippi

Mississippi, you’re on my mind

All the crosses burned and the lessons unlearned

Left a scar across my heart and its ten miles wide

Sick of sloggin’ through the history of this wounded land of mine

Still payin’ the cost, cause the war was lost

Mississippi don’t you reckon it’s time?

Earle reminds everyone of how the confederate flag is a symbol of hate to so many and it’s what many people view it as. While some view it as southern pride, the history behind it and the evil associated with it override what a few see it as. The instrumentation and production of this song is classic Earle, as it has a folk/alt-country sound that many enjoy hearing from Earle. There’s also short interludes of “Dixie” played in the song. His ragged voice utters out the lines with conviction and a little anger even. Earle is clearly as passionate about this as Hoge and is making it pretty clear how he feels. Whether you agree or not with his stance, Earle certainly knows how to get a message across loud and clear.

It should be noted that Earle has teamed up with the Civil Rights rights organization Southern Poverty Law Center and all proceeds generated from the song will go to the organization. So Earle isn’t making a dime from this song. He simply wanted to get his thoughts out on this issue and help out an organization he cares about. While I thought the song could have went even deeper, I think Earle approached this issue with intelligence and thoughtfulness. His emotions and songwriting combine to make a powerful song with a clear message. It’s a song I definitely recommend checking out. Earle shows once again why he’s such a respected singer-songwriter.

Grade: 9/10

Review – Will Hoge’s “Still A Southern Man”

Will Hoge

Here in the United States, to say it’s been a busy news cycle in 2015 would be an understatement. There have been several major issues throughout this year and we’re just past the halfway point. One of the biggest issues and the one that has undoubtedly affected country music the most is the issue of the confederate flag. This issue was raised after the horrific and tragic shooting in Charleston, South Carolina where a coward went into Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church and shot nine people because of the color of their skin. It was a blatant act of racism and terrorism. One of the after effects of this tragedy was the issue of the confederate flag, as their were several pictures of the shooter with confederate memorabilia and the confederate flag still flew over the state capitol in South Carolina. Immediately people called for the flag to come down, while at the same time many people came out to defend the flag. Eventually the flag was removed from the capitol and several retailers have since banned the sales of any memorabilia displaying the flag. The issue is still hotly debated as of this time.

Enter Will Hoge now. He’s a proud southerner from Nashville, Tennessee and an artist that sings with conviction in every song he sings. Not only does he display this conviction in his singing, but his songwriting too. He’s already impressed many in the country music community this year with his new album Small Town Dreams, which Derek rightly praised in his review of it. It contains some of my favorite songs of 2015. So back to the confederate flag issue: Hoge saw the events in Charleston and the fallout, prompting him to write a song to flesh out his feelings on it. The name of the song is “Still A Southern Man.” In an interview with Rolling Stone, Hoge says he used to fly the rebel flag with pride, as the name of his high school was the Franklin Rebels and the mascot was a rebel solider. But as he grew up and saw more places as he travelled, he begun to realize the confederate flag didn’t represent what he thought and the Charleston shooting drove this point home to him.

So that leads us to “Still A Southern Man,” which is this: an outright protest and condemnation of the confederate flag. Hoge recorded the song in a single night at RCA Studio A in Nashville and in this song he has no qualms revealing his thoughts on the issue. The line that drives home his point the best to me is the following:

“There’s an old flag waving overhead/and I used to think it meant one thing.

Now I know it’s just a hammer driving nails in the coffin of a long dead land.” 

See what I meant about Hoge’s conviction? It’s such an admirable trait in a songwriter and the amount of punch behind these lyrics are clearly felt. Hoge sings about his immense amount of pride for the south and it’s culture, but he clearly wants the confederate flag no longer associated with it, as he feels it represents hate and racism, not the pride of southern culture. And just because he’s dismissing the rebel flag, doesn’t mean he isn’t a southern man as Hoge sings. The guitars blare throughout this song, giving it a rocking and catchy groove. Hoge is borderline furious as he sings throughout the song, giving this song even more edge. Everything comes together to give this song a perfect attitude for a protest song.

Just like Rachel Potter with “Jesus and Jezebel,” Hoge’s “Still A Southern Man” tackles an issue that the majority of artists in country music wouldn’t dare touch. Not only that, but Hoge boldly and outright condemns something that a good size group of people in country music support. I find this song to be very important because many outside the circles of country music love to stick country music with the stereotype of it being music for racist white trash and hillbillies. This is obviously not true. At the same time though it makes the genre look bad when many of the big names of country music refuse to tackle issues relevant in pop culture at the moment. Along with Kacey Musgraves, Hoge isn’t afraid to tackle these issues and appears more proactive compared to his contemporaries as a result. This song is a prime example of true artistry and conveying strong feelings in a thoughtful manner, proving another example that country music is a deep and thoughtful genre open to anyone.

Grade: 10/10