Washington Square Serenade

Goodbye, Guitar Town, Hello New York City. With a guitar slung over his shoulder, his beautiful new red-headed bride on his arm and a head full of new ideas Steve Earle takes to the streets of a place he calls “my own personal city of dreams.” His political bent toward the left, working class mentality, hard rocking songs and history with drug addiction made it difficult for Earle to fit into the Nashville music machine. New York has seen its share of cowboys and surely will embrace this one.

Washington Square Serenade celebrates the streets, people and diversity of New York. “City of Immigrants” is a joyful acknowledgement of the immigrant experience - the mix of languages and cultures. Earle includes himself in that whirlwind as wife Allison Moorer sings the chorus “all of us are immigrants.” “Down Here Tonight” gives a hawk’s view of the city as it looks down on the human hustle and bustle.

Although the boy may have moved to the concrete jungle the country still resides inside the artist and makes it way out in the music and often the lyrics of Earle’s songs. “Oxycontin Blues” resurrects those coalmining images so often depicted in country songs but with a hard modern edge. “Jericho Road” relies on biblical references to express disillusion with current foreign policy.

What makes this record so fascinating is how Earle combines his country influences with the gritty urban landscape of New York City. “Red Is the Color” begins, “North wind blowin’ seventh avenue down/old man leanin’ like he’s pullin’ a plow.” A plaintive mandolin opens the track, soon to be joined by distorted harmonica, pounding bass drum and Earle’s grizzled vocals punctuated by hoots that sound like they emanated from the holler. ‘Satellite Radio” finds Earle experimenting with looping effects (and, perhaps, promoting his own radio show?). He also throws in a spooky rendition of Tom Wait’s “Down In the Hole.”

Earle includes several songs inspired by his new wife Allison Moorer. “Sparkle and Shine” is a litany of unabashed adoration for his bride and “Come Home To Me” continues the theme. The couple duet on “Days Aren’t Long Enough,” a song that should work it’s way into marriage and anniversary ceremonies.

Earle hasn’t abandoned his political messaging. There’s plenty in this record to ruminate on but it is more subtly presented than on previous releases. On “Steve’s Hammer (For Pete)” Earle sings that he hopes to someday be able to put away his hammer – once injustice is conquered. Until then, expect the hammer to come down.

Rosemary Welsch, WYEP Afternoon Mix host