Steve Earle’s last disc of original material, 2007’s Dust Brothers-produced Washington Square Serenade, found the rootsy stalwart dabbling successfully with novelties like sampled beats and loops. But on his new album, I’ll Never Get Out Of This World Alive, the singer-songwriter ropes in Americana maestro T-Bone Burnett. The marriage couldn’t be better matched. Caked in layers of dusty reverb and rattlesnake tremolo, the songs are full of dark holes and deceptively desolate acoustics; even in his blackest moments—like the moaning, windswept “Lonely Are The Free”—Earle’s fierce survival instinct leaks from every open wound. And speaking of marriages, Earle’s wife, country artist Allison Moorer, duets with him on “Heaven Or Hell,” a molasses-paced paean to stormy love that’s a far cry from “Days Aren’t Long Enough,” the couple’s puppy-eyed pairing on Washington Square. Not that Earle sounds like he’s on the rocks, matrimonial or otherwise, on I’ll Never Get Out: Granted, the disc is bleak from the title on down (and its accompanying novel, Earle’s first, promises to be equally so). But Earle has always forged armor out of his scars, and by that token, I’ll Never Get Out is impregnable, yet achingly vulnerable.
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