Steve Earle: Washington Square Serenade

After more than two decades in action, Steve Earle still finds new ways to tweak blues, folk, and country conventions. On his first outing in three years, the troubadour's drawling voice, a mix of toughness and good-ol'-boy affability, has a tenderness sometimes absent from his noisier work. Inspired by Earle's current home in Greenwich Village, Washington Square Serenade has something for fans of every stripe, celebrating Pete Seeger on the exuberant sing-along "Steve's Hammer (For Pete)" and using an old-fashioned hillbilly stomp to highlight a modern ill in "Oxycontin Blues." However, his love songs cut deepest: "Days Aren't Long Enough," a breathtaking duet with Allison Moorer (his wife), could become a new staple of enlightened wedding receptions.