Alt-country pioneer Steve Earle put himself on the map during his five-album stint with MCA Records, during which time he established himself as an iconoclast whose stubborn individualism doomed his attempts to slot into Nashville's hidebound marketing system. It wasn't Earle's stripped-down, melodically accessible music that was the problem; what made Earle unpalatable to the Music City establishment was his stubbornly gritty lyrics, which delved deeper into personal and political territory than the mainstream country gatekeepers could handle. In hindsight, it's just as well that Nashville rejected Earle; after being transferred to MCA's rock division, Earle took advantage of his new freedom to carve out a tougher, more distinctive sound that was ultimately better suited to his songs. This two-CD, 30-track retrospective distills the highlights of Earle's MCA tenure, with the topical post-rockabilly of such early tunes as "Guitar Town," "Good Ol' Boy," "I Ain't Ever Satisfied," and "The Rain Came Down" giving way to edgier, more personal efforts, e.g. the Celtic-rocking "Copperhead Road," the slyly political "Snake Oil," the brooding "The Other Kind," and the stark anti-capital punishment tract "Billy Austin." The set also features a handful of unreleased tracks, plus Earle's purposeful covers of such seminal tunes as Bruce Springsteen's "State Trooper," the Rolling Stones' "Dead Flowers," Doug Sahm's "She About a Mover," and the trucker country standard "Six Days on the Road."