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Steve Earle and Allison Moorer in Modern Take On "A Star is Born"

By Chuck Sudo in Arts & Entertainment on Mar 7, 2008 5:00PM

2008_03_the_earles.jpgSince the 1986 release of his debut album Guitar Town, Chicago has long been home to one of Steve Earle's strongest fan bases. He's such a gifted songwriter that fans often overlook the fact that he's essentially made the same record since 1996, right down to the obligatory duet with a female singer, "state of my life" liner notes and beautiful artwork by his good friend, the local artist and noted unemployed film-goer Tony Fitzpatrick.

Earle tries to shake things up a bit on last year's Washington Square Serenade, using Pro Tools and drum loops extensively for the first time and enlisting in Dust Brother John King to produce the record, but he doesn't stray far from The Formula. A musical chronology of Earle's marriage to country singer Allison Moorer and their subsequent move from Nashville to New York City, the album suffers from by-the-numbers songwriting that sparks at times, but never really catches fire.

By contrast, Moorer's newest record, the just-released Mockingbird, is a collection of covers written by female singer-songwriters, with Moorer writing the title track. The group Moorer pays homage to is eclectic: songs by Ma Rainey, June Carter Cash, Joni Mitchell, Nina Simone, Patti Smith, Gillian Welch and Cat Power are all featured here. Mockingbird is ultimately as inspired as Washington Square Serenade is rote.

Still, it's Earle who has the name recognition, and his headlines the marquee this evening when he and Moorer take the stage at a sold-out Vic. Earle's concerts with his longtime backing band the Dukes are cathartic, his acoustic shows more so. Expect him to share the stage a lot with his new bride this evening, where she may possibly steal the show.

Listen: Allison Moorer - "Revelator"

Image via Steel Belted Radio.