Given Steve Earle's musical direction of the past decade, it's sometimes difficult to imagine him being on the cutting edge of country music. But as this release reveals, his early work was pure country with a twang. Gleaned from his first three albums, these 12 cuts show him following the path blazed by "outlaws" Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson. Earle relies on familiar country lyrical and musical fare on early numbers such as "Guitar Town" and "Hillbilly Highway," but the social conscience that he now displays begins to surface on "The Rain Came Down," emerging full-force on "Copperhead Road," a rock-infused tale that begins and ultimately ends in Appalachia, but with an education courtesy of "Charlie" in Vietnam. The "hero's" bildungsroman, from innocent moonshiner to savvy marijuana farmer, amply mirrors the development of Earle's songwriting voice and may well be the best recommendation for this release.