Justin Townes Earl's LP 'Harlem River Blues' - OurVinyl
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Justin Townes Earl’s LP ‘Harlem River Blues’

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Justin Townes Earle is not expected, that is not what many expect.  Tall, angular and with his “mother’s build” JTE holds his guitar like a life-line and sings as if this is all he knows how to do.

Don’t be afraid of JTE, you may find him in the “Country” bin, perhaps the “Folk” or “Roots” bin, but the truth is he fits fully into none of those genres, and perhaps all of them at the same time.  His simple sound and earnest delivery on both record and at live performances are something of a dichotomy when compared to the harsh, and at times terrifying images that JTE creates with his simple storytelling style.

‘Harlem River Blues’ was released in September of 2010 to little fanfare and promotion but has managed to snag not only an Americana Music Association ‘Song of the Year’ nomination for the title track, but Album of the Year as well.

The title track Harlem River Blues leads the album out with it’s upbeat tempo and full backing gospel vocals this sounds like something we’d hear from Elvis, or Johnny Cash and not from a youngin’ (so to speak).

However, Earle’s public outbursts and battle for sobriety are well-documented, combine that with non-stop touring and Harlem River Blues seems not ahead of his time, but perfectly in sync.

The bluesy Move Over Mama is exactly what we’d expect from some country royalty, with a twangy guitar and a swagger in his voice at times he’s put together music that sits comfortable in 50’s as well as in modern music halls.

Modern day railroad song Workin’ For the MTA, tells the tale of hard work and with a sound that would make Woody Guthrie proud Earle strikes a chord that resonates long after the song is finished.  With a full and yet lonesome sound a slight echo lends to the imagery and elevates the song considerably.

Slippin’ and Slidin’ is a beautiful song about addiction and control; it seems almost criminal to even try to describe this song with words.  Make sure no on will walk in, quiet the dog, and fall into this song.

JTE finds a home for his sound, on the road and in the hearts of music lovers.  Playing festivals and small venues across the country he’s amassing a diverse fan-base.  Fans of Johnny Cash will find the same hard-edge and dark storytelling with a country touch.   Alt-country and roots fans find simple storytelling and a variety of stringed instruments with a touch of Dixie, a touch of folk and a touch of blues.

Citing Guthrie as one of his greatest influences (among many) Justin Townes Earle has always had the name and reputation of his father. Steve Earle, standing beside him.  Justin Townes Earle has developed a sound that shines a light bright enough to dispel that shadow, he may still be his father’s son but this music is all his own.

‘Harlem River Blues’ is available in digital format, cd and on vinyl (this review is based on a vinyl copy) and through your usual music outlets.  This album, as well as his back catalog, is recommended listening for all music lovers.  Look for tour dates at www.justingtownesearle.com or at www.facebok.com/justintownesearle and be sure to catch him when he comes to your town.

By Meredith Underhill

Justin Townes Earle – “Harlem River Blues” by TwentyFourBit.com