Steve Earle's never been good at stepping lightly around social and political issues. You could say the Virginian roots rocker is about as subtle as a baseball bat to the face. Accompanying his gruff voice with a bleary-eyed strum, he's probably more potent and alive on Serenade than many would expect.
Made as a tribute of sorts to the Greenwich Village folk revival and characters like Bob Dylan, who continue to have a stronger impact on Earle's music as time goes by, the record continues in the spirit of 02's highly politicized Jerusalem, in which Earle and band merge folk protest songs and raw, dusty country.
But calling a songwriter like Earle just a protest man would be overlooking the intensely textured storytelling he's capable of. A restless, tense mood runs through Serenade, only lightened by Days Aren't Long Enough, a brief lament that sounds more like he's saying goodbye to the summer sun than waving a raised middle finger at George W. Bush.