The revolution will be … broadcast

Expose a breast on television — particularly when it competes with scantily clad cheerleaders during the Super Bowl — and the Federal Communications Commission will make a stand for decency and fine you silly.

Welcome to the new morality: Television, radio and print media now live in fear of invoking the wrath of FCC Chairman Michael Powell and his band of clean-living crusaders. But one recording artist has had enough, and he’s sending a rather unambiguous message to that end. “So f••k the FCC,” bellows Steve Earle on his latest CD, The Revolution Starts … Now (Artemis Records, 2004).

A bold statement indeed, particularly now, in a climate where folks are being arrested just for wearing an anti-Bush shirt at a rally (it happened to a Federal Emergency Management Agency worker and her husband at the President’s July 4 appearance in Charleston, S.C.). Free speech, Earle wants us to know, is getting pretty costly in Bush’s America.

But he doesn’t stop there. In the same not-so-slyly titled tune, “F the CC,” Earle, who reminds us that “Dirty Lenny died so we could all be free,” goes where Bruce never went, chanting “F••k the FBI, F••k the CIA …”

It makes you wonder if his next gig will be an extended engagement at Club Guantanamo. Of course, it’s going to be a little difficult for the powers that be to silence his voice — the album is collecting rave reviews (four stars from Rolling Stone) and even multiple Grammy nominations.

Go figure: At a time when we’re told the country is supposedly shifting to the right, Earle — who described himself in a Rolling Stone interview as “an unapologetic lefty” — spits venom at The Man, and folks in blue and red states scream for more. In the meantime, however, Che Earle is bringing his revolution to Asheville. And it’s a pretty safe bet that tickets will move fast — Earle has a strong following here. In fact, WNCW listeners voted his latest release the top album of the year for 2004. Martin Anderson, the station’s music director, recently told Xpress it’s no surprise Earle nabbed top honors: “He’s always done well with WNCW. He’s always been a core artist, doing solid work for a number of years.”

Earle “has stayed ahead of the curve,” says Anderson. “And that really shows on [Revolution]. Listeners just ate it up.”

And how does Anderson account for the disc’s apparent bipartisan appeal?

” … Solid songwriting,” says the director. “What I think is that while it’s pretty left-leaning, it also appeals to those who don’t want their music and their activism mixed.”

After all, this gruff, once-jailed ex-junkie, though obviously liberal, is hardly the typical slow-strumming folkie. Earle rips the war in Iraq on several of the album’s strongest, gut-wrenching tunes, then turns things upside down with a toe-tapping, calypso-esque ditty about Secretary of State nominee Condoleezza Rice (“Condi, Condi”) which includes the line, “Skank for me Condi, show me what you’ve got” — and gets it played on the radio.

In this day and age, that’s downright revolutionary.

Steve Earle and The Dukes play The Orange Peel (101 Biltmore Ave.) on Friday, Jan. 21 with Allison Moorer. 9 p.m. $20. 225-5851.

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