Wednesday, November 14th, 2007

Goodbye Guitar Town

For the last few years, Steve Earle has been pissed. About what, who knows – surely there’s nothing going on south of the border that a fiercely left-wing, politically active, self-declared Communist could possibly take exception to. And yet his last two studio releases – The Revolution Starts… Now and Jerusalem – have bristled with politically charged vitriol towards the powers that be, sometimes to the detriment of the songcraft but never casting any doubt on the strength of Earle’s convictions. He’s apologized for the absence of “chick songs” from his recent repertoire and promised they’d return when things got better in the USA.

And they must have improved because on Washington Square Serenade, Earle is positively mellow. And it’s not from resignation to the fact that his country is doomed, but more a sense of peace from realizing that for all that’s wrong, there’s still a lot right. The impetus for this change of heart was brought on by two big life events for Earle – moving to New York City and marrying Allison Moorer. New York infuses every inch of the record from the title on down while Moorer duets on a couple songs and is the subject of more. Politics still permeate, but they’re less pointed and balanced by love.

Sonically, it’s a change of pace as well. Though the songs are primarily acoustic, it’s not as stripped down and bare as Train A-Comin’ – there’s still a full band at work and the production by John King of The Dust Brothers casts most everything in a deep groove that might sound a bit unnatural to some, myself included. It’s not necessarily obtrusive or even detrimental, but it is a very noticeable element and I’m not sure that the production should ever be that evident. Interestingly, it’s not on one of Earle’s compositions that it seems most odd but on his cover of Tom Waits’ “Down In A Hole”. Perhaps it was given the more urban treatment since it’ll also be the theme for the upcoming season of The Wire, but I have to think it’d have been more powerful with just Earle, his guitar and a mic.

Washington Square Serenade won’t go down as one of Earle’s best records – for my money, Train, I Feel Alright, El Corazon and Transcendental Blues are untouchable – but it is a worthy addition to a pretty fearsome discography. I can appreciate the need to take a breather from raging against the machine for so long but Earle may have turned the fire down just a bit too much on this outing. I’ll chalk it up to newlywed lightheadedness – I mean, c’mon, Allison Moorer – but maybe by the next time out Earle will have remembered that there’s still plenty out there to be pissed off about.

And while Steve’s heart is in the Big Apple, don’t be too surprised if you see him around Toronto on Thursday, maybe composing a Dundas Square Serenade. There’s no North American touring plans confirmed as of yet but he’s going to be in town to record an episode of Live At The Rehearsal Hall for Bravo and thanks to Fontana North, who handle Earle’s label New West in Canada, you can be there.

I’ve got ten spots to give away for the taping, which is happening on Thursday evening (November 15) at 6PM at the ChumCity Building at 299 Queen St W (you know the one) and if you want one, email me at contests AT with “I want to see Steve Earle” in the subject line and your full name in the body. Also, VERY IMPORTANT, tell me if you’d need a plus one or if it’d be just you. I want to make sure all of the seats get used so only enter if you can actually be at Queen and John at 6PM on Thursday (if you finish work at 5 and need to commute in from Thornhill, that doesn’t mean you) and if your date/companion/whomever can also be there for then. I will draw winners randomly from all entrants and assign spots, depending on how many said person wants, until all are gone. So if everyone flies solo, that’s ten winners. If everyone has a friend (and come on, what are the odds of THAT), five winners. All entries must be in my 5PM today Update: Contest closed! Thanks to all who entered, I’ll be in touch with the winners this evening with instructions. To everyone else… check out Steve on KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic as a consolation prize. And he’s on CBC’s The Hour Thursday night at 11.

And for a taste of what the session might be like, check out the one he did for the World Cafe last week via NPR.

eCard: Steve Earle / Washington Square Serenade
Video: Washington Square Serenade electronic press kit
MySpace: Steve Earle

Speaking of Steve Earle and The Wire, Paste reports that coinciding with the start of the show’s final season, we will finally see a soundtrack album for the show. This is interesting because The Wire has no conventional musical score, no proper soundtrack. Any music that appears in the show generated within the scene, from a car stereo or boombox or what have you, with the obvious exception of the theme song – a different version of “Down In A Hole” for each season – and a song overtop the clip montage that closes each season. The soundtrack will contain three of the five theme songs, excepting Waits’ original from season two and Earle’s from season five, and a selection of Baltimore-centric hip-hop alongside tracks from The Pogues and Paul Weller. Earle, who portrays recovering addict Waylon on the show, is represented by “I Feel Alright”, which closed out season two. An eclectic record? Yeah. The final season begins on January 8 and the soundtrack is out January 10. City Paper ran a feature a couple years ago about the use of music in The Wire, and there’s a behind the scenes preview of the new season below.

Video: The Wire season five – Invitation To The Set

Josh Ritter talks to The Independent about the rather awkward experience of running into his tribute band in a Dublin bar.

Robyn Hitchcock explains his need to go backwards to The AV Club. He just released the I Wanna Go Backwards box set yesterday, which you can stream in its entirety and grab the title track MP3 below, and he’s also performing at the Mod Club tonight.

MP3: Robyn Hitchcock – “I Wanna Go Backwards”
Stream: Robyn Hitchcock / I Wanna Go Backwards

What does arm-wrestling have to do with Ted Leo’s “Colleen”? Nothing. And everything.

Video: Ted Leo & The Pharmacists – “Colleen” (MySpace)

Rhett Miller of Old 97s will be doing his solo thing at the Horseshoe on December 19, tickets $15.

Part three of the Soft Focus interview with My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields is now streaming. And tangentially via Tiny Mix Tapes, Athens instrumental/orchestral outfit Japancakes yesterday released a cover album of Loveless… and based on the couple of samples streaming on their MySpace, damn if it isn’t pretty. Now whether pretty and not bludgeoning volume was the point of Loveless is up to you. If you like pretty, I suspect you’ll like this. If not, you’ll think this is elevator music. But hearing “Only Shallow” done with strings and pedal steel certainly works for me. eMusic has it too, if you’re curious and have downloads to burn.

Pitchfork talks to Sigur Ros’ Jonsi Birgisson about their Heima documentary, which is out on DVD November 20 and is screening at the Royal Cinema on November 24.

The Tripwire catches up with British Sea Power. Do You Like Rock Music? is out February 12.

By : Frank Yang at 8:22 am
Category: Uncategorized
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  1. Glenn says:

    I liked reading your comments on Earle’s new album. Makes me want to give it a few more listens. I’ve tried it a few times and haven’t connected with it yet. Seems like I keep going back to Guitar Town and can’t get into his recent albums.

  2. RT says:

    Who is this wanker who interviews Kevin Shields? He may be the world’s most pretentious chap I’ve encountered in some time.