Washington Square Serenade

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Supposedly, this Steve Earle record is unlike all other Steve Earle records because it was recorded with beats. But production by Dust Brother John King notwithstanding, it impacts just like any other Steve Earle record — lyrics first. So fans will follow the title's hint and take this for the New York record of a Texan turned Nashvillian turned Greenwich Villager. After all, two of its strongest songs are "Down Here Below," a talky pan-New York City meditation from the twin vantages of Central Park hawk Pale Male and old-school New Yorker journalist Joseph Mitchell, and "City of Immigrants," which is as warmly appreciative as the subject deserves. Both pop up early on what is definitely a front-loaded collection. Two fine love songs to Earle's wife, harmony-singing Allison Moorer, come with one that drags. The endless, bandless, grooveless "Red Is the Color" drags more. And the Tom Waits cover — oy.

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