Steve EarleWashington Square Serenade
Essential: "City of Immigrants"
The iconoclastic Steve Earle is back but this time with an album that feels disjointed. On his first studio record since 2004's feisty "The Revolution Starts . . . Now," Earle opens with four crackling tunes about New York City, his new home base. The rap-laced "Down Here Below" bemoans the difficulty of being poor in New York, while "City of Immigrants" is a brilliant look at a "city of tears, city of prayers," and the acoustic rock of "Satellite Radio" sounds like a keen companion to Bruce Springsteen's "Radio Nowhere." But Earle abruptly leaves the New York theme behind (this could have been a great concept album if he continued) and diverts into a couple of just-OK, folk-country love songs, followed by a strange tune about seeing his father on the "Jericho Road" and the mildly intriguing "Oxycontin Blues," about a coal miner's son who gets hooked on the drug. The ballad "Days Aren't Long Enough" (with his wife, Allison Moorer) seems like a commercial bid, but nothing compares to his New York material. It's still a decent album, but it's also an opportunity lost. [Steve Morse]