Washington Square Serenade is another substantial chapter in what looks like becoming an epic songbook.
Maybe it was inevitable that when Steve Earle moved to Greenwich Village he’d produce his first full folk album (discounting the bluegrass detour The Mountain) since the mid ’90s. That being said, Washington Square Serenade is no sepia-tinted period piece. The presence of Dust Brother John King behind the desk means the Texan has absorbed urban pulses, marrying the implicit rhythms of Depression-era balladeers and talking blues to the stripped digitalism of Beck’s Mellow Gold or even Christy Moore’s Traveller. Anyone expecting Steve to suddenly start dripping bling will be disappointed; in most cases the rhythmic sensibility approximates roots-rock conventions rather than Dre or Timbaland.
As always, the songcraft takes centre stage, whether it’s ‘Tennessee Blues’, which seems to hypothesise a young Dylan arriving in present day-glo NYC, or ‘Down Here Below’, a free verse downtown vignette that relates William Carlos Williams and Hart Crane to Hank and Townes and also boasts a nifty banjo-tattooed breakdown.
You might call it hick-hop. ‘Satellite Radio’ hinges on a crisp, clipped backbeat that rubs nicely off Earle’s southern vowels, a vocal style that unfussily connects the cadences of CB radio trucker gab, frontier DJs and block party MCs.
But for this listener, the album’s central triptych steals the show. ‘Jericho Road’ is a purgatorial stroll through Desolation Row in which Steve meets the revenant spirits of his kin in an atmosphere pitched between Shakespeare and Springsteen; ‘Oxycontin Blues’ is both a miner’s lament and methamphetamine cook’s testimonial that joins Deadwood, Dakota to Copperhead Road by way of a martial snare figure; and ‘Red Is The Colour’, rather than being a tribute to his new missus Allison Moorer’s hennaed tresses, is an apocalyptic ballad backed by medieval minstrel mandolin and blues harp through a distorted bullet mike.
Later, the bride herself drops by to duet on the tender valentine ‘Days Aren’t Long Enough’, which, along with ‘Sparkle And Shine’ is one of Earle’s finer grown-up love songs. And by way of a kicker, there’s a version of Tom Waits’ ‘Way Down In The Hole’, recorded for The Wire, which resists imitating the original’s bog-dwelling troglodyte oddness and instead renders it as a soulful ‘Gotta Serve Somebody’ morality play.
A restless, industrious spirit, Steve Earle’s reputation grows with every record. Washington Square Serenade is another substantial chapter in what looks like becoming an epic songbook.
Earlier in the year promoter Vince Power engaged in a very vocal spat with the BBC when the broadcaster used money from the UK licence fee to promote the London Hackney Weekender, featuring huge acts like Jack White, Deadmau5, Rihanna, Ed Sheeran and Florence + The Machine. Power felt it fundamentally damaged his ability as a commercial promoter to successfully present the same acts to a ticket-buying public. Why should a publicly-funded body, he questioned, be allowed to queer the pitch for commercial promoters?Read More
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Veteran American songwriter Steve Earle will be playing here in January.Read More
American singer-songwriter Steve Earle is to play Dublin's Vicar Street in early 2008.Read More
Steve Earle is known for his passionate political views. But never mind standing firm in the face of conservative America. The hardest thing he ever did was follow Christy Moore onstage.Read More
Dundalk’s Spirit Store is one of the leading folk venues in the country. On evidence of its inaugural night, The Tall Poppy Club sees looks set to be the jewel in the crown. Also: Steve Earle and Billy Bragg, old dogs with new tricks.Read More
Watching Steve Earle and The Dukes is like rooting for a nag you know has a shot at the cup if it would only get the lead out. I’ve seen this lot a few times over the last 15 years, and tonight was possibly the closest they’ve come to an all-out tour de force, yet there’s always the sense that they’re holding out on that extra ten per cent.Read More
Veteran agitprop folk-rocker Steve Earle talks to Peter Murphy about kicking against George Dubya, jamming in Galway and revamping Shakespeare for the 21st century.Read More
Earle commands protest chops that go back to Guthrie, but he also has the smarts to examine the allure of war, both as boys’ own glamour and last-ditch career option. Most of the songs study the anatomy of soldiery.Read More
The thirteen tracks herein can be split roughly into two camps - the originals penned quick and recorded even quicker for soundtracks, and the covers dashed off as extra incentives on special edition albums, or just for pig ironRead More
The Magnetic Fields' Stephin (sic) Merritt was of course simply havin' a larf when he wrote those lines but he put his finger on something here all the same.Read More
If this is what a couple of years in the slammer does for you, I'd go behind bars myself. The Mountain makes it three in a row for Steve Earle.Read More