Steve Earle is one of the most entertaining wordsmiths still slinging his guitar around these days. He got it honestly, learning from the likes of Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark. A little younger than Guy, seems Steve is keeping up with the times on Washington Square Serenade.
All the latest music magazines are talking about Steve Earle and Washington Square Serenade this month. And rightly so. This album is surprisingly good and I had trouble being surprised, having read reviews before I caught a good listen. I was a devotee of Steve from back in the day. (I’ve torn my house up this weekend looking for that lost copy of El Corazon. I know it’s around here somewhere.)
I thought Guitar Town was great. Leaving guitar town is even more fun. Maybe just being a grown-up myself makes it so easy to smile with Steve as he’s run toward his vision full steam ahead for the past decade. I thought Jerusalem was miraculous. "John Walker Blues"? "Ashes to Ashes"? The title track, "What’s a Simple Man to Do"? All great songs individually and lined up just so on that album. I’ve spent a lot of hours with it. In a way, "Amerika 6.0" was a warning in more ways than one. Besides what the lyrics told us, the style and method of that track were prophetic. Steve uses technology. You can’t write him off as a geezer guitar rocker. He’s versed and practiced in looping.
I don’t care how this album was created anymore than I care how Ben and Jerry’s got the chocolate and cherries proportioned so perfectly in the Cherry Garcia. I just love it.
Allison and New York City obviously agree with Steve. He says he wrote this one for himself. Nothing more political than the "City of Immigrants", done with a Brazilian band and an humble attitude really, simply saying that we are all immigrants. He swears he’ll return with more to say on the world’s plight, but for now, yeah, I agree with him, do this one for you, Steve. Sing to sweet Allison. She really does Sparkle and Shine. Her harmonies on this album are super duper – strong and unafraid, never over-powering, never too shy. I’m thinking she should have taken the lead on one or two songs, but maybe next time.
"Jericho Road" is an earworm song for me. I wake up with it in my head and it comes back periodically, but, hey, I’ve had worse earworms than this! Oxycontin Blues is great, Steve’s Hammer (for Pete Seeger) is a nod to old folkies everywhere. Satellite Radio asks the question, “Is there anybody out there?”
Yeah. I’m here. And so are a lot of other Steve Earle fans. Most all of us are nodding along and smiling. It’s nice to see Steve ‘playing nice’ and it’s good to give the critics a chance to catch their breath. A beautiful album is not the easiest review to write sometimes, but give him a chance. He swears he’ll be back with something controversial. Right now, right here, I couldn’t be happier with this CD. It’s on my top ten list for 2007.
Track 1 – Tennessee Blues – Goodbye, Guitar Town, leaving in the broad daylight with a blue dog on the floorboard and a redhead by his side. What could be sweeter, really?
Track 2 – Even if you aren’t familiar with Pale Male, the New York City red-tailed hawk, “life goes on down here below” in your town, too, I’ll bet, “and all these mortals struggle so”. See? Wordsmith extraordinaire, I’m tellin’ ya.
Track 3 – Turn it on. Turn it up. It’s Satellite Radio. Anybody out there?
Track 4 – City of Immigrants – Great mix with South American rhythm instruments galore. Makes me want a colorful full skirt to swing and a tall, dark dance partner. Backing band is Forro In the Dark. Nice voice work by Allison.
Track 5 – Sparkle and Shine – I didn’t want to like this one. You know the whole cliché about Steve always having to throw in a few ‘chick songs’ and all. At the risk of losing a few coolness points, I gotta admit it. I love this song.
Track 6 – Come Home to Me – Now, to me, this is where the album slows down a little bit. Not my favorite track.
Track 7 – Jericho Road – This one is a radio friendly number. Steady beat, great bridge, fine lyrics. Go Steve. You keep on walkin’!!!
Track 8 – Oxycontin Blues – Take a warning from a man who knows drugs. Oxycontin is not good for us. I love this line “I never cared much for whiskey, ‘cause it only made Daddy mean. Wrapped a little bit tight they tell me for the methamphetamine.”
Track 9 – Red is the Color – Not one of my favorites, but I don’t get Irish or bagpipes or any of that.
Track 10 – Steve’s Hammer – Old Folkie at heart. A little tired, but one of these days he’s gonna lay that hammer down and sing a different song. Hopefully after the coming election day, I’m thinkin’.
Track 11 – Days Aren’t Long Enough (With Allison Moorer)
– Sweet love song, sweet harmonies. Her voice is really a great compliment to his.
Track 12 – Way Down In The Hole – step back! A little farther back……..I dunno, I think I could get used to this “new Steve”.
I’ll give it 5 stars and a whole bunch of spins.