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.