Steve Earle: Washington Square Serenade (NewWest/Elite)

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Steve Earle: Tennessee Blues
Steve Earle: Washington Square Serenade (NewWest/Elite)

A decade after Bob Dylan washed up in Greenwich Village, Steve Earle left his home in Texas and started on the same journey -- inspired, he admits, by the cover photo on The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan which showed the skinny Bob and his girlfriend Suze huddling on a wind-whipped street.

Earle (see tag for interviews, album reviews) never made it past Nashville on that attempt but the thought of the Village didn't leave him and finally in 2005, about three decades after his first effort -- and six marriages, heroin and alcohol addiction, cleaning up and acclaim -- he settled in New York, on the same block as that Dylan photo was taken.

A scholar of that folk-boom period he says, "If that scene doesn't happen then rock'n'roll never becomes literature. It just stays pop".

This new album may not be the best he has done (or even the second best) but that is simply because he set such a high threshold with recent albums like The Revolution Starts Now, Jerusalem and Just An American Boy.

Here he revisits some of the styles he has previously explored -- speak-sing narratives, spare ballads, and blue collar country among them -- but beneath many of these songs are unobtrusive programmed beats courtesy of producer John King (of the Dust Brothers).

This is but a small shift for Earle, one of the most musically unconstrained and lyrically courageous of those who came from the country/rock angle: here he covers Tom Wait's Way Down in the Hole; sings the soft, Byrdsian folk-rocker Days Aren't Long Enough with his wife Allison Moorer; celebrates his new hometown in City of Immigrants (with Brazilian band Forro in the Dark); and salutes folk legend Pete Seeger in Steve's Hammer.

Earle has lost none of his tough edge for songs such as the punchy Jericho Road and banjo-driven workingman's story of Oxycontin Blues (nor his softness on yearning love songs like Sparkle and Shine, and Come Home To Me) and while this isn't a cornerstone Earle album -- in fact it sounds transitional -- it should still be greeted with wide open arms by his growing following.

It's been three years since his last album, so this is long overdue and very welcome.

This album won best contemporary folk/Americana album at Grammy awards held February 2008 

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