CD Review: Steve Earle

Washington Square Serenade New West
Music •••½ Sound ••••

As the title suggests, former Nashville rebel Steve Earle has relocated to Greenwich Village - once and future Folk Music Capital of the Universe - and this new album is a response to his new surroundings. Or as he puts it in the liner notes: "Now that I have finally arrived in my own personal city of dreams to walk streets with names that I've heard sung all my life, I still don't have any ANSWERS, but I can tell you a truth or two."

Earle being Earle, of course, this is not your typical folkie album: It's got a rock edge sonically, and it's eclectic enough to tip its hat to certain (shall we say) contemporary urban styles that you wouldn't immediately associate with 1960s folk purism. Not all of it works. "Oxycontin Blues," for example, is lyrically very sharp on one of the most awful heartland drug plagues of all time (though personally, I'm disappointed at the absence of a cheap shot at Rush Limbaugh), but musically it's a little grating. As is "Red Is the Color," a throwback to Koerner, Ray & Glover field-holler territory that I could have lived without. And "Days Aren't Long Enough" - a duet with his wife, the wonderful country singer Allison Moorer - alas feels a little perfunctory.

The good stuff, however - which is pretty much everything else on the album - is out of this world. In particular, you get the mordantly anthemic "Jericho Road" and a nicely spooky cover of Tom Waits's "Way Down in the Hole." Then there's "Down Here Below," an absolutely brilliant street rap with an instantly addictive chorus. It's the kind of thing a young Lou Reed might've written had he grown up around Nashville instead of New York City. I've been listening to it obsessively for a week now, and it hasn't gotten old yet.

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