In the case of Justin Townes Earle, separating the art from the artist has been a difficult proposition of late. On the one hand you have the very unfortunate incident that (allegedly) took place a few months back after a show in Indianapolis. I don't have the facts behind whatever did happen, but suffice it to say that it was ugly, and didn’t reflect well on Earle. On the other hand is the singer/songwriter’s utterly fantastic new album, Harlem River Blues, which continues Earle’s rapid ascension into the upper tier of working Americana artists. HRB is the fourth album in 4 years from Earle, and can be considered his New York record. The title track, with its uptown destination, is perhaps the most rousing suicide anthem you’ll ever hear, while in other places Earle sings from a Brooklyn bed (“One More Night in Brooklyn”), and as an subway worker in the cold, lonely tunnels under the city (“Workin’ for the MTA”). As he did on last year’s Midnight at the Movies, Earle demonstrates a natural control over a wide array of old-time genres including country, folk, blues, and rockabilly. But on this new record he also dips his feet into soul and gospel, and, unsurprisingly from an artist who has proven so versatile in the past, nails those influences as well (“Christchurch Woman” in particular). The production and crisp playing of his band are immaculate throughout, and the songs Earle has written show a writer with a unique voice. Harlem River Blues only further makes clear that JTE is capable of emulating his father as a songwriter. Here’s to hoping he can do the same with his demons and make records like this for years to come.
MP3 :: Harlem River Blues
(from Harlem River Blues. Buy here)