After Steve Earle's 2007 album "Washington Square Serenade" left some quite cold, his subsequent tribute album to the late great Townes Van Zandt seemed to right his singer-songwriter ship, but then again it's hard to screw up a Townes Van Zandt song.
Thankfully, Earle's new album seems to travel down a dusty, rickety old road in the vein of "I Feel Alright" when the Waitin' On The Sky opens up although Earle's vocals sound like he's somewhere under a bridge recording them The Mavericks-tinged toe-tapper works from the beginning. Little Emperor is a swinging little nugget with plenty of moxie from Earle.
The more one listens to the album, one gets the sense Earle should've had this slotted between "Train A Comin'" (his first post-prison album) and "I Feel Alright." But lyrically, he deals with current topics on the Celtic-leaning nugget The Gulf Of Mexico and the jaunty Molly-O, the latter resembling a more sinister answer to The Galway Girl.
And as is the case with most Earle albums, the quality of the songwriting is stellar from Lonely Are The Free and particularly on the simple God Is God that definitely brings Van Zandt to mind. The ramshackle Meet Me In The Alleyway sounds like he met Daniel Lanois in that same alleyway.
It's back to basics for Mr. Earle, and the excellent results of that return to form is this finely crafted addition to his primarily solid body of work.