The fired-up American balladeer who isn’t Bruce Springsteen

If your impression of Steve Earle is informed by his political records like Jerusalem and songs like “John Walker’s Blues,” his new album is a compelling case for reevaluation: Not unlike a certain newly redeemed vice president, Earle succeeds not by modulating his voice but by finally having struck upon the right venue and the right moment for his message.

On Washington Square Serenade, Earle, a Southerner recently transplanted to New York City, delivers a set of country-rock odes to his new hometown: Through characters as varied as Pale Male, the red-tailed hawk that built its nest in a Fifth Avenue co-op, and the ghost of New Yorker writer Joe Mitchell, he catalogues everything he finds great and perplexing about the post-9/11 metropolis. Some songs, like “City of Immigrants,” are overt in their leftish message, but most are subtle speculations about where a resilient city finds its courage and character, and how it might someday inspire a battered nation to do the same.

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