Album: Steve Earle, I'll Never Get Out Of This World Alive (New West)

As a songwriter, Steve Earle is blessed with two apparently contradictory gifts: the ability to animate fictional lives, and a streak of cussed, lefty sincerity that gives bite to his truth-telling.

The latter is proudly employed on "Little Emperor", his contemptuous dismissal of GW Bush, while the former is most effective on "I Am A Wanderer", a plaint for exiles whose classic country-style arrangement connects refugees and immigrant labour to the American romantic drifter tradition. Elsewhere, he deals with the BP oil spill in the style of an Irish folk tale, muses intelligently on prophecy in the graceful "God Is God", and offers two takes on New Orleans in the Tom Waitsian voodoo grime of "Meet Me In The Alleyway" and the troubled nobility of the TV drama Treme theme "This City".

DOWNLOAD THIS Little Emperor; God Is God; Meet Me In The Alleyway; This City