IN TUNE: Curious that Allison Moorer continues to perform “Dancing Barefoot,” transforming it from a dirge to an ode, now that she’s clearly stepped from the shadow cast by her husband. During a four-show residency at City Winery that Steve Earle and the missus closed Thursday night, Moorer became more commanding than ever.
The Earles brought their new baby to the marathon show, which also featured New Jersey’s own Greg Trooper. In addition to his own material — including a touching seaside-melody, “This I Had to Do” — Trooper played alongside Earle, getting a raucous rise out of the crowd when they combo’d on the ever-hopeful “Someday.”
Longtime fans expect twists from Earle, and he obliged by opening with Tom Waits’ “In the Hole,” popularized on the TV show that brought one of his finest acting turns, David Simon’s “The Wire.”
But the night also got him revved, the lion in his adoptive den (He and Moorer were married five years ago next week, then moved from Nashville to just off Washington Square Park).
In addition to the familiar valentine for his wife (“Sparkle and Shine“), Earle revived some chestnuts. He served ‘em all up fresh, from “I Ain’t Ever Satisfied” to “South Nashville Blues” to “You Know the Rest.“ He also worked in the song he’s called his personal favorite, the bittersweet, Townes Van Zandt-inspired “Goodbye.”
He briefly mentioned that his sister, Stacey, called to say her son had returned from a tour of duty in the Middle East.
Next to the death penalty (and, perhaps, disruptive audiences), war angers him most.
“We are the first empire that has tried to take over the world AND lower taxes at the same time,” Earle told the sold-out house, introducing the deeply passionate “Rich Man‘s War.”
“It didn’t work for the Romans. It didn’t work for the British empire,” he said.
Earle closed more than two hours of music with “Galway Girl,” “Copperhead Road” and the Emmy-nominated “This City,” a song he wrote for another brilliant Simon series, “Treme,” about the effect of Hurricane Katrina on a group of New Orleans natives (Earle again makes you forget it’s him acting).
A review from the first show of the July/August residency: Proud parents Steve Earle and Allison Moorer perform with royal progeny, Rosanne Cash
As the “Treme” crew shot next season’s final episode, Earle told the crowd, the cast learned that BP’s oil was pouring into the Gulf.
Still, if Katrina taught us anything, he said: “Those people will survive.”
What many of us don’t understand, he said, is how it will come to change our lives over the long haul.
As sweet as it was for Trooper to trade verses with one of America’s most gifted folk songwriters in history, and as thrilled as the lingerers were to see 4-month-old John Henry afterward, the night clearly belonged to the new mom — aided by the remarkable violinist and talented songwriter, Eleanor Whitmore, of Brooklyn.
The clap-along “Fairweather” had its usual bounce, as the women harmonized. But “Alabama Song” was richer, deeper, with more spaces in between, than when it became Moorer’s first hit in 1998. And the title song from her latest album, “Crows,” with flourishes and pauses adorning a melody that channeled Karen Carpenter, finally silenced what had been a boisterous lot.
Sitting at the piano, Moorer suddenly ripped off a brief fortissimo, then stopped and looked at the quieted crowd, her chin up. Applause followed, and the red-haired songbird smiled, returning to the tune.
“I guess a crow in the yard,” she sang, “is better than a bat in the belfry.”
We’ve extolled the virtues of City Winery often in these spaces, but New York’s only operating winery deserves kudos — it also has become THE premiere spot for singer-songwriters, with a vibe that Dave Alvin described as “like the Bottom Line, only nicer.”
Wine lovers can find plenty to excite them; the service is always top-notch (you can’t believe you’re in the city); and the food is more than up to par.
Check out the menu and the lineup: CITY WINERY EVENTS
Also, there’s a funky behind-the-scenes video worth a view: