Monday, October 01, 2007

Recent listening....

Last week, I picked up Steve Earle's latest and went alt-country old school with a re-issue of Uncle Tupelo's first.

Steve Earle — Washington Square Serenade
So Earle moved to the city and got a place literally steps from my first apartment. He left the Dukes behind and hooked up with Medeski and a few other guys. He went to the crazy music store on West 4th Street, the place that only lets serious people in the door. (I only went in a couple of times, and only after the owner was satisfied that I might buy something.) He went into the studio at Electric Ladyland and recorded an album that is subtly different than anything else he's done.

The instrumentation is subtle and acoustic throughout with a jumpy, unsettled rhythmic track below it all. It loses some of the straightforward drive of albums like Transcendental Blues. What the new album trades away, it gains back through some killer songwriting. "Tennessee Blues" closes with

Blue dog on my floorboard, redhead by my side
Cross the mighty Hudson river to the New York City side
Redhead by my side, boys sweetest thing I’ve found
Goodbye guitar town

It's a clear statement that he is striking out in new directions. The familiar observation and storytelling are there, however, as he moves through track after track evoking a newcomer's arrival in the city. There is also a familiar nostalgia for what has changed over the years in New York:

Now hell’s kitchen’s Clinton and the bowery’s Nolita
And the east village’s creepin’ ‘cross the Williamsburg bridge
And hey, whatever happened to alphabet city?

There is less storytelling throughout, which suggests that Earle is working through his own stories instead. Even his "chick songs" as he puts it are quieter and more optimistic:

Four more seasons on parade
Show their colors then they fade
But that won’t happen to us, darlin’
We’ll remember how it was
Then begin again because
Days are never long enough

Overall, it's too soon to say whether this is one of his best albums, but it's a good step after the intense politicking of the last two. Definitely worth some repeat listening.

Uncle Tupelo — No Depression
This album still stands up almost twenty years later. I've been listening to a lot of Wilco and Son Volt over the past year, so this was a bit of a re-introduction. What I most noticed is how much Farrar seemed to drive the early UT days, and how consistent his songwriting and instrumental style have been. Tweedy is almost absent in those early UT recordings, at least the Tweedy we began to see as UT broke up and Wilco began evolving.

UPDATE: Three minutes after I finished this post, Wilco came on Radio Paradise. Weird.