An angry Steve Earle is something to behold, but watch out for the man when he's in love. It's been three years since Earle's shrill, prickly The Revolution Starts…Now, but his new Washington Square Serenade leans on the tender company of country singer Allison Moorer, whom Earle married in 2005. And he isn't about to let anyone forget it: Much of Serenade is about her, and the love-fest culminates in the swooning duet "Days Aren't Long Enough." Earle peppers the record with typically twangy chunks of outrage, backbone, and grit, but the sour shadow that's been hanging over him since his post-9/11 opus Jersualem has lifted, and songs like "Steve's Hammer (For Pete)" simmer with radiant hope that's weary but never resigned. Earle's version of "Way Down In The Hole"—the Tom Waits dirge that opens HBO's The Wire, in which Earle himself has a recurring role—haunts the end of the disc, but by then, it's too late: Serenade has already lifted its heart to the sky.
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