Steve Earle's epic journey has been anything but easy or predictable; quests for unsettling truths rarely are. Whether taking on venal politicians, crass exploitation of workers and the environment, the death penalty, or trying to explain infamous characters like that American kid who ended up with the Taliban, Earle has never flinched, even while battling personal demons. His music isn't easy, either; it's capable of yielding brittle laments as well as scorching rockers. Earle's latest foray was a move from Tennessee to Greenwich Village in an apparent repudiation of red-state politics. The resulting album, Washington Square Serenade (New West), is among his most personal, filled with love songs inspired by latest wife Allison Moorer and his new environs. In its mainly acoustic sound, Earle pays tribute to the Village's days as the epicenter of the folk revival, including a tune for Pete Seeger. Earle's banjo and mandolin keep the country flavor near at hand, as do a few snarly songs about hard times back home. On her striking new Mockingbird (New Line), Moorer puts highly distinctive, sometimes thoroughly reinventive touches on a vast range of material from female songwriters, stretching from Ma Rainey to Kate McGarrigle. Several she hits far out of the park, including Nina Simone's sultry "I Want a Little Sugar in My Bowl," and a sad, remarkably tender version of June Carter and Merle Kilgore's "Ring of Fire."
Sun., March 9, 7:30 p.m., 2008