Yes, she's Steve Earle's sister, but pay that no mind. Stacey Earle doesn't need to latch onto anyone's coattails to create a big impression. Just the combination of her stark voice and compelling songcraft is enough to turn heads.
Although brother Steve does pop up on the album, adding harmonies to "Losers Weep," it's not as if he's crucial to the album's abundant charms -- its homespun beauty, its tender lyricism, its compelling soulfulness. Many of these virtues derive purely from Stacey Earle's voice, an affecting soprano that alternately brings to mind such kindred spirits as Emmylou Harris, Nanci Griffith, Gillian Welch and Iris Dement. Of course, it doesn't hurt that Earle also has a gift for writing songs that sound as if they were handed down from one generation to the next. Among the album's many gems are "Waiting," a ballad that teeters between deep yearning and outright despair; "Wedding Night," a rhythmically infectious account of impending bliss; and "Cried My Heart Out," a honky tonk lament in which a betrayed lover finally comes to grips with her sorrow and vulnerability. "No more tears I cry for you," she tells her cheatin' man, "the only ones here are in my shampoo."
Simple or clever, these are honest songs, full of real emotions, and neatly arranged for a backporch assortment of stringed instruments, accordion and percussion. Given the timelessness of the music, it only seems fitting that the CD would masquerade as a vinyl disc, complete with a little surface noise and song listings for "Side A" and "Side B."
Appearing Sunday at IOTA. To hear a free Sound Bite from Stacey Earle, call Post-Haste at 202/334-9000 and press 8128. (Prince William residents, call 690-4110.)
CAPTION: Stacey Earle, doing the family proud.