IN TUNE: Steve Earle and Allison Moorer capped a sold-out finale to a City Winery residency by dedicating musical valentines to one another.
“I’ve never seen a person who’s been through Hell and back the way he has and have such a beautiful spirit,” Mrs. Earle said, before dedicating a version of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” that brought the raucous crowd of nearly 400 to a hush.
Earle drew five straight exquisite Mondays toward a close a short time later with a heartfelt version of “Valentine’s Day,” adding a shout-out to all those who forgot to make reservations next week.
Neither dedication was sappy nor schlocky. Both were incredibly sweet.
For all his masterful folk songs and inspiring protest music, Earle is no different than Woody or Hank: He writes a lot of pretty songs about pretty girls.
He’s also become a lion of his craft – fearless, protective, ferocious at times but always compassionate, able to see the other side of an argument, even if he completely disagrees with it. An elder, really.
The 39-year-old woman at his side, meanwhile, continues to refine her gifts for writing, singing and playing.
She was back once again on her newest instrument, the accordion, for a bouncy run through “Galway Girl” and a delicate version of “Fort Worth Blues,” Earle’s ode to his dear late friend and mentor, Townes Van Zandt.
“See you when I get there, maestro,” he said at the end.
In keeping with the American musical history theme of the residency, Earle brought on The Dust Busters, a young trio of revivalists who play genuine Appalachian mountain music.
Not everyone’s cup of moonshine, for sure – unless, of course, you can appreciate the lineage that stretches way back before rock and roll.
Earle joined them for a lively version of Jimmie Driftwood’s 1958 chestnut “I’m Too Young to Marry.”
They also reprised a song we should be hearing plenty of this year (and NOT because of the presidential election): “This Land Is Your Land.” And, yes, Steve lustily sang the censored verse.
The Earles performed a clutch of duets, including the song they wrote for themselves, “Days Are Never Long Enough,” after Moorer came out to harmonize on the final choruses of “City of Immigrants.”
Although there’s been some new material, the residency was a reconnection with some of the strongest songs in each spouses’ respective canon, from Moorer’s “Easy in the Summertime” and “Crows” to Earle’s “Someday,” “My Old Friend the Blues” and “Guitar Town.”
Never one to disappoint, Earle rewarded the faithful with a surprise or two, opening with “If I Should Fall From Grace With God” by the Pogues and closing the regular set by obliging those who called for Tom Waits’ “Down in the Hole,” which he recorded for David Simon’s brilliant TV series, “The Wire” (which also featured Earle as an addiction sponsor, a role that came naturally to the former heroin junkie).
It’s not like him to solicit requests, but the first was a tune that Earle likely would’ve done anyway: “Christmastime in Washington” takes on added meaning this year, given that Woody Guthrie, whose spirit is invoked in the song, was born a century ago this July 14.
Overall, there was nothing really new or different about the show – which is just fine. We should appreciate this true power couple for as long as we have them. They continue to make this world a better place for their being here.
And they sure sing some pretty songs.
(NOTE: You can reach me at: [email protected] …. Or: 201.943.2794 )