Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Justin Townes Earle: "Harlem River Blues" (album review)

It's easy to be skeptical when the offspring of a famous musician tries their own hand at the family craft.  The questions will often linger about how much of their success was due to the name of their parent and how much they earned on the merit of their own work.  That's definitely a skepticism I've held when it comes to Justin Townes Earle, the son of working class troubadour (and Bubbles' sponsor) Steve Earle.

After listening to the younger Earle's forthcoming album Harlem River Blues (out September 14th), I have to say I'm no longer a skeptic.  It may have taken three albums, but he has definitely won me over as a convert.

Earle's songwriting has grown by leaps and bounds.  His blues collar themes, such as the railroad worker's "Workin' for the MTA", are every bit as poignant as his father's.

More importantly, to me anyway, is the vast improvement in Earle's arrangements.  There's a breadth and diversity of style that had been previously lacking.  The title track is a catchy, gospel-tinged country number.  "Move Over Mama" is a rockabilly treat, seemingly inspired by "All Shook Up".  Earle shows his soulful side on "Slippin' and Slidin'".  He also has a Springsteen moment with "Christchurch Woman", and a more haunting Mark Kozelek-esque take on "Rogers Park".

Harlem River Blues is one of those rare albums that sounds as good when taken as individual tracks as it does when you listen to it as a whole.  All of that makes for one heck of an impressive album.  Things only seem to be getting better with Justin Townes Earle.

Justin Townes Earle plays the Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto on October 15h.

Best tracks: "Harlem River Blues", "Move Over Mama"

Track listing for Harlem River Blues:

  • Harlem River Blues
  • One More Night In Brooklyn
  • Move Over Mama
  • Workin' for the MTA
  • Wanderin'
  • Slippin' and Slidin'
  • Christchurch Woman
  • Learning To Cry
  • Ain't Waitin'
  • Rogers Park
  • Harlem River Blues (Reprise)

Justin Townes Earle's website
Justin Townes Earle's Myspace

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