Washington Square Serenade (DIG)

November 10th, 2011

Washington Square Serenade (DIG)

After an extremely rare three year break from recording, Grammy® Award winner Steve Earle is back, with Washington Square Serenade. The album represents a number of firsts for Steve: his first record for New West Records, his first album produced in New York City (now his home), and his first produced by John King of The Dust Brothers (Beck, Beastie Boys) at the legendary Electric Lady Studios. The deluxe CD/DVD version will be available with bonus packaging art plus an exclusive documentary DVD about the inspiration behind the album. The bonus DVD includes 3 acoustic performances, interviews and a walking tour of Greenwich Village with Steve and noted journalist Mark Jacobson. The album will also be available as a Limited Edition 180 gram vinyl record.The title and opening songs of Washington Square Serenade are as much a celebration of New York City–Steve Earle’s newly adopted home–as his breakthrough Guitar Town was an evocation of his previous home in Nashville. In fact, the opening “Tennessee Blues,” with its acoustic guitar over a digital rhythm loop, bids “goodbye to Guitar Town,” as he leaves with “a redhead by my side.” That would be wife Allison Moorer, who harmonizes beautifully with her husband on “Days Aren’t Long Enough,” written by the two; provides background vocals elsewhere; and plainly inspires “Sparkle and Shine” and the bittersweet “Come Home to Me,” two of the album’s loveliest songs. The result is a new chapter in Earle’s career, an album unlike any he’s previously recorded, produced by John King of the Dust Brothers (Beck, Beastie Boys). While the raw, raging blues of “Red Is the Color” ranks with Earle’s most powerful music, “Satellite Radio” could well be the slightest (as well as perhaps a plug for Earle’s own radio show), but the artist’s willingness to take chances attests to a restless creativity that refuses to be corralled. Other noteworthy tracks include the Brazilian-tinged “City of Immigrants,” the tribute to Pete Seeger on “Steve’s Hammer,” and the closing rendition of Tom Waits’s “Down in the Hole,” which will serve as the theme music for Season 5 of The Wire. –Don McLeese

More from Steve Earle


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  1. Ryan Winkleman says:
    37 of 43 people found the following review helpful:
    4.0 out of 5 stars
    From the Guitar Town to Greenwich Village, September 25, 2007
    By 
    Ryan Winkleman (CA) –
    (VINE VOICE)
      
    (TOP 1000 REVIEWER)
      
    (REAL NAME)
      

    This review is from: Washington Square Serenade (DIG) (Audio CD)

    It’s been 3 years since Steve Earle released a new studio album. In that time, George W. Bush has been reelected, Steve got married again to the beautiful Allison Moorer, and he packed up his Nashville paraphernalia and moved to the city. New York City, to be exact. In fact, if you don’t already know it, Steve now resides on the same block so famously pictorially memorialized on the cover of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, and it’s very clear from listening to him that he takes the spirit of Greenwich Village very seriously and very much to his corazón.

    With all that in mind, Steve’s new gift to music is Washington Square Serenade, an album of 11 originals and 1 cover. Recorded in the famed Electric Lady studios, the album is different from his others by default, because as he says right in the bonus disc’s interviews, he now “tests positive for ProTools.” This is immediately apparent from the album’s beginning, which has drum beats and samples throughout the 12 tracks. If you can get past the beats, you’ve got a pretty darn good album ahead of you.

    The album begins with Steve’s farewell to Nashville, “Tennessee Blues.” Personally, I think the acoustic-only version is better (more on that later), but the lyrics are downright beautiful–“Blue dog on my floorboard, redhead by my side, cross the mighty Hudson River to the New York City side. Redhead by my side, boys, sweetest thing I’ve found. Goodbye, Guitar Town”–and a perfect goodbye to the place he used to call home. Next comes “Down Here Below,” a mostly spoken-word song about the resident NYC red-tailed hawk Pale Male that is very reminiscent of the Drive-By Truckers’ “A World of Hurt.” Steve’s voice is hypnotizing on it. “Satellite Radio” is probably one of the more hip-hop influenced tracks on the album, and the ProTools influence is very obvious on it. Steve sings about a radio DJ wondering about his prospects on satellite radio. Fairly catchy, but nothing too mind-blowing here. The fourth song is the first single off the album, “City of Immigrants.” Steve performed it on the Late Show last month and it includes backing by the Brazilian group Forro In The Dark. This is Steve’s non-aggressive answer to Lou Dobbs’ views on immigration, and once it grows on you, the song is quite good.

    Then comes the first love song of the album, “Sparkle and Shine.” The song is very simple, very light-hearted, and very beautiful and is definitely a highlight of the album. Unfortunately it is followed by the throwaway track “Come Home to Me.” This is a very sub-par Earle ballad that has been done many times before and much better. With the exception of some nice chord structuring during the bridge, this isn’t one to get too excited about. “Jericho Road” is another barely-passable track. It’s not necessarily bad, but compared to other tracks on the album and other songs that Earle has written, this doesn’t do it. Think of the groove to “Telephone Road” from El Corazón (released 10 years ago, coincidentally), and then take out a lot of the fun and energy. This is basically a darker and less-interesting version of that song. “Oxycontin Blues” will immediately draw comparisons to “The Truth” from 2002’s Jerusalem album. Combine that feel with the feel of 1996’s “CCKMP” and you get the general idea of what this song sounds like as Steve sings about drug addiction (hence the comparison to “CCKMP”).

    “Red is the Color” takes things up a notch with some great harmonica blowing as Steve sings and yelps over a slow jam. Next come possibly the two finest songs on the album, “Steve’s Hammer (for Pete)” and “Days Aren’t Long Enough.” The former is dedicated to folk pioneer/icon Pete Seeger, and lays Steve’s political views right out front for the listener (“When the air don’t choke you and the ocean’s clean and the kids don’t die for gasoline, one of the these days I’m gonna lay this hammer down”). The refrain is extremely catchy, and when it breaks out into a full sing-along chorus, it becomes even more infectious. Plan on turning this one up. The latter track was co-written by Steve and his wife Allison and is one of the most beautiful ballads/duets that Steve has released in the last several albums. It is simply a gorgeous song that is destined to become a classic Earle ballad. Finally, the album ends with Steve’s version of Tom Waits’ “Way Down in the Hole,” which will also be used as the theme for the 5th and final season of The Wire in January. It’s not a strong song to end on, as Steve’s voice just doesn’t really mesh too well with the song itself and the hip-hop-ish groove that he employed for it. A decent cover, but no more than that.

    And finally, if you are trying to decide whether or not to buy the deluxe edition with the DVD, here’s a breakdown of what you get: extensive interview footage of Steve talking about the album, his past, and the history of…

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  2. MRod "Hoosier Music Man" says:
    9 of 11 people found the following review helpful:
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    Goodbye Guitar Town, October 6, 2007
    By 
    MRod “Hoosier Music Man” (Indiana via Virginia) –

    This review is from: Washington Square Serenade (DIG) (Audio CD)

    Only one thing was for certain leading up to the release of the first album of new material from Steve Earle in three years: It would be adorned with the similar eye catching, void of the Earle, cover artwork that has encompassed his CD covers for the last decade. I had several concerns that this could be the beginning of the end for Earle. First was an unprecedented post drug/penal three year hiatus from recording. Second, his last album, “The Revolution Starts Now” left no doubt that Earle’s disheartened view of America and its politics had reached its Dante’s Peak, which was emphasized by the Jim Morrison like spoken track, “The Warrior.” Then there was the pre-publicity leading up to this album. He had transplanted himself to Greenwich Village, married again, this time to fellow singer/songwriter Allison Moorer, and said that at this time in his life, he needed to be able to look out his window and see a same sex, mixed race couple walking down the street holding hands and be ok with that. Not that any of this is good or bad, but just un-Earle like. So it was with apprehension that I gave the CD an initial spin. It took one listen to answer the question that, “ok, he hasn’t totally lost his mind.” And after a second listen, I realize he has created probably his finest work ever. He hasn’t let marriage send his career into the lap-sucking whirlpool of toilet creativity like say, Clint Black did. He obviously has met up with some of the ghosts of Bob Dylan, but is not afraid of them, and he is apparently not quite ready to give up just yet. Tennessee Blues opens the album with a catchy percussion hiccup and clearly states the direction of the album, “goodbye guitar town.” Down Here Below is a great metaphoric visual and a masterfully written piece. Satellite Radio will catch a lot of ears, and City of Immigrants shows off some Earle mandolin playing. Come Home To Me is classic heartbeat Earle. The emotion without the sap. Jericho Road may have fit well on the last album but fits just well here too. Oxycontin Blues and Red is the Color give the album some additional flavor not heard on previous Earle works. The Days Aren’t Long Enough is a beautiful track with wife Allison Moorer, and Sparkle and Shine is a nice chick song as well. The disc is rounded out by the only song on the CD not written by Earle, a cover of Tom Waits’ Way Down in the Hole.

    Well worth the price is the deluxe version which offers a 35 minute DVD bonus which includes 3 bonus acoustic tracks and an Earle tour of Greenwich Village. This lends some keen insight to the album and shows a side of Earle not seen before.

    Bottom line: A masterful work from a masterful singer songwriter. Look for this one to stay on the Ipod rotation `til . . . . well …. Probably Washington Square Serenade pt II.

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