Steve Earle, ‘I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive’ (New West)
Like his idol Townes Van Zandt, Steve Earle has made bemused fatalism his milieu. But Earle’s first original set in four years is still a landmark of grimness – even his devotional songs invoke mortality (“I can’t promise anything / Except that my last breath will bear your name”). T-Bone Burnett’s understated production suggests an aqueous atmosphere, with a few actual sea shanties. “This city will never drown,” Earle declares on the album-closing ode to New Orleans. That’s as close to optimistic as it gets.