Not long ago, Justin Townes Earle took up residence in New York City. When I interviewed him awhile back, he sang the praises of the city, and seemed to be very happy with his move. However when it came time to record his third album, Harlem River Blues (Bloodshot Records), he returned to his hometown of Nashville to record at the House of David studio.
He brought a lot of New York with him to Nashville though. You need look no further than the album’s title track, which name checks a well known New York City waterway. I was immediately struck by the stylistic and musical changes on the new album. Even Earle’s voice sounds different, a bit less twangy than on last year’s Midnight at the Movies. While there is still plenty to like for the country music fan, including songs like “Move Over Mama,” and “Learning to Cry,” the highlights of the album are three songs that draw inspiration from cities like Memphis, New York, and Chicago as much as they do from Nashville. “Slippin’ and Slidin'” features a sophisticated blues arrangement and finds Earle lamenting a troubled romance. “Christchurch Woman” is a hit single waiting to happen (listen up Bloodshot!), though it will require a little judicious editing before terrestrial radio will play it. The album’s highlight, and one of the best songs of the year from any artist, is the mournful “Rogers Park,” devoted to a Chicago landmark.
Justin Townes Earle is one of the most dynamic, charismatic performers I’ve ever seen. My hope is that he gets past the well-publicized problems that have been plaguing him of late and continues to give us great music for many years to come.
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