Steve Earle
Washington Square Serenade
(New West Records)

It looks as if a move to New York has softened the hard-core troubadour Steve Earle, said Randy Lewis in the Los Angeles Times. The Texas-raised, songwriter, long based in Nashville, bid adieu to the South and moved to New York’s Greenwich Village in 2005. A love song to his new hometown, Washington Square Serenade unveils an Earle who is “less the political provocateur he’s been in his last couple of albums than a sociological observer and commentator.” Like his folk forefathers, he has been inspired by the variety and vitality of Manhattan. On the standout “City of Immigrants,” the country boy finds comfort in the big city: “Living in a city of immigrants / I don’t need to go travelin’ / Open my door, and the world walks in.” Always passionate but perhaps more intimate, Washington Square Serenade “has re-established the thoughtful balance between the personal, political, and poetic that characterizes his finest work,” said Graeme Thomson in the London Observer. The urbane, arty production by the Dust Brothers’ John King digs deep into the marrow of New York, while the gravelly vocals, world-weary tales, and foot-stomping rhythms make the album explicitly Earle. “There are enough high points to make it a solid effort,” said Jim Abbott in the Orlando Sentinel. Still, there are a couple low ones. “Satellite Radio,” which refers to Earle’s show on Sirius, and the seemingly endless cover of Tom Waits’ “Red Is the Color” both sound less realized than his signature works.