Released in 1990, The Hard Way probably ranks as Steve's most overlooked album. Why? To be honest, I don't have a clue. It's a solid-to-spectacular 13-song set containing such long-lasting classics as "The Other Kind," "Promise You Anything," "Billy Austin," "Have Mercy" and "Justice in Ontario," which I rate amongst the best tracks Steve's ever recorded. Echoing "Copperhead Road," it compares and contrasts the story of Jim Donnelly (lynched a hundred years ago for a crime he didn't commit) to a more recent occurence in Ontario, where witnesses to a murder were brought up on charges and convicted. There's no saving grace, no kicker--just the cold, hard truth. In fact, "Justice" is at the heart of this album. There may have been several factors that contributed to this being a highly overlooked album. Coming off the heels of his successful Copperhead Road album, which was almost more rock than country, The Hard Way didn't receive near the pub it deserved. Also by 1990 Steve's drug use had amped up and he had been addicted to heroin for many years. It started to become clear that the drugs were seriously affecting him. By 1992, his drug problems resulted in him effectively stopping performing and recording for two years, a period he refers to as his "vacation in the ghetto". He eventually ended up in jail on drug and firearms charges.
The Hard Way may well be the album that cost Earle his job with MCA records(they wanted more country and less political), but for music fans looking for genuinely hard hitting lyrics supported by high-power guitar and drum work, it's one of the best albums any artist in any genre has ever produced and certainly should be revisited.
The Other Kind
Promise You Anything