Two decades ago, Texan Steve Earle rode into Nashville and released a debut album full of songs that set him apart from most of the other performers who wanted to be country music hitmakers. Few in Nashville, are willing or able to write songs like "Guitar Town", Earle's very unromantic but realistic tale of life as a working musician. Today, Steve Earle has finally bid farewell to "Guitar Town" and taken up residence in New York City. VOA's Katherine Cole reports on his new CD, "Washington Square Serenade."
In case there is any question as to his whereabouts, "Tennessee Blues," the opening track to Steve Earle's 12th solo release, sets us straight.
But it's not just the lyrics to the songs on Washington Square Serenade that let us know Steve Earle is in a different place. The album, with its minimalist arrangements of mandolins and guitars over drum loops, sounds stark and bare like a New York City loft, as opposed to a warm country cabin.
Steve Earle says he always loved visiting New York. After spending two months living there in 2004, he decided to make it his home. That move, along with his recent marriage to fellow singer and songwriter Alison Moorer, was the inspiration for Washington Square Serenade, which Earle calls love songs for the city and his seventh wife. It's obvious which one of the two influenced "Sparkle and Shine."
But just because he's in love, don't go thinking that Steve Earle has gone soft. Long known for championing causes, he still has opinions on the world around him. And, as shown in "Oxycontin Blues," Steve Earle still captures the dark side of life and the struggle of the underclass like few others can.
Washington Square Serenade is just one of the projects that made 2007 a very busy year for Steve Earle. The 52-year-old troubadour spent several months on the road touring in support of his new release, while also wrapping up work on his first novel. And somehow, he found time to portray a drug counselor in the television series "The Wire," and host a weekly radio program.
Another highlight of Washington Square Serenade is a tribute to folk singer Pete Seeger, called "Steve's Hammer (For Pete)." It is a protest song looking ahead to the day when we won't have anything to protest, because hunger, poverty, war and other issues Seeger and others have been singing about for the past 50 years will finally be a thing of the past.
Steve Earle's Washington Square Serenade is showing up on several "best of 2007" lists, including one by author Stephen King, who places it in the top spot.