Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Two new works of American musical genius

We get frightening politicians from Texas, but great songwriters. Something about that big, wild, former piece of Mexico triggers a demon that works as a fascinating catalyst in the musical and political mind.

This month we've gotten two new CDs (I still call them albums, but everyone under 30 knows they're just a loosely collected series of files), from two of our finest songwriters.

After a long drought, the new album from Lyle Lovett, and his Large Band, It's Not Big It's Large, is a collection of originals which proves that Lovett can write and sing with an emotional depth and sophistication unmatched by nearly any American artist. Some of this stuff is sad and deep, and some of it is superficial and fun, but all of it is an unmitigated pleasure to hear. Though recorded with the Large Band, the CD features a number of contemplative, simple, quiet acoustic numbers. When he corrals the live band into a romp, it's the usual, and unusual mix of American genres, folk, blues, rhythm and blues, jazz, gospel and string band.

Steve Earle ought to be as big as Bruce Springsteen, but Earle, who began his career on the country charts, was soon abandoned by that audience, which couldn't accept his rebellious rock and roll persona. His affinity for country also held him from capturing the ears of rock audiences who are prejudiced against a country sound. And, yes, Earle bears a certain amount of responsibility for unraveling his own career. After he released as pointed a protest album as any released during these turbulent times, The Revolution Starts Now, Earle has created Washington Square Serenade, an album celebrating the new loves in his life, New York City and his new wife Alison Moorer. The album is produced by John King of the Dust Brothers, and rolls between regret and celebration. As ususal, it's a brawny, brainy, lovely set of American music.

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