Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Steve Earle: El Corazón [Warner Bros., 1997]
Earle writes with the flair and searching eye of a great talker who's also a great reader, and he can sing with anyone--on The Songs of Jimmie Rodgers, his dissolute "In the Jailhouse Now" keeps the ball rolling after two of the canniest vocals of Bob Dylan's and Willie Nelson's not exactly thoughtless careers. But now that he's sober he sounds drunker than ever, recalling the blurry, lost-my-dentures drawl of John Prine at his cutest. And since unlike Prine he doesn't take naturally to cute, his back-porch sentimentality can seem as unearned as any folk revivalist's; when he reflects too much, as is his current spiritual wont, he proves that the only thing softer than a tough guy's heart of gold is a populist radical's corazon sangriento. While hoping the born-to-lose sex problems of his rock comeback are behind him, I still find his fast ones more convincing than his slow ones. A-