Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Justin Townes Earle - Harlem River Blues

It's been evident from the start that Steve Earle's kid had talent, and his first two albums were fine, albeit sometimes derivative forays into the same Americana territory worked by his old man. That said, it’s not Justin’s fault that he has a famous father, and if he hasn’t exactly tried to hide the fact, he also hasn’t unduly traded on his name to gain fame and notoriety.

Nowhere is that more true than on Harlem River Blues, Justin Townes Earle’s pivotal third album. Gone are the letter-perfect honky-tonk homages to Hank Williams. Gone too, thankfully, are the rueful confessions of familial connection ("I am my father's son/I've never known when to shut up/I ain't foolin' no one/I am my father's son"). Justin lets it all go, and in its place is, finally, his authentic voice. This is as good as Americana gets, and it's a big step forward from the first two "promising" albums. The promise has arrived, big time. The songwriting is sharp and focused. There's a thematic unity to these eleven songs (life during hard times, and the messages are as timely as ever). Most importantly, there’s an incredible breadth of styles and genres here: Sun Studios rockabilly, a Dylan-influenced folk tune, a classic country weeper, country blues, superb Memphis soul, and, in “Christchurch Woman,” a great Springsteen ballad not written by Springsteen. There's not a weak song or a weak minute here. The inevitable family comparisons may finally be a thing of the past. Steve who?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the review. It's everything you say.