Friday, September 17, 2010

New Release: Justin Townes Earle - Harlem River Blues

Release Date: September 14, 2010
Label: Bloodshot

This is one I hadn't heard of until it was on sale at Amazon as a $2.99 MP3 download.  I previewed a few tracks, and thought it sounded promising.

Justin Townes Earle is the son of country/rock singer Steve Earle, and like his father, who was often on the road, he became addicted to drugs at an early age.  He spent most of the 90s letting drugs wreck his life, but eventually sobered up, after what was evidently his fifth major drug overdose.  After sobering up, he began his music career. [1]

Harlem River Blues is Justin's fourth album in as many years, and can best be described as country folk.  I would place this more on the mellow end of the spectrum, with only one or two upbeat tracks to be found.

Track list:
1Harlem River Blues2:48
2One More Night in Brooklyn3:04
3Move Over Mama2:00
4Workin' for the MTA3:48
6Slippin' and Slidin'2:58
7Christchurch Woman4:11
8Learning to Cry2:41
9Ain't Waitin'2:16
10Rogers Park4:27
11Harlem River Blues Reprise:31

This album starts out very promising.  Earle doesn't have a bad style; it's not country pop, it's country folk.  Earle has a relatively twang-free baritone voice, and really, his singing is not too bad, although his range seems limited.

The lyrics give this album an interesting touch, with several of the songs alluding to New York City.  My favorite is Workin' For The MTA:
I run the six line train,
Clear from Brooklyn Bridge to Pelham Bay
About half way through the album, he starts to slip.  It's not that the quality goes down, per se.  It's more that he seems to run out of ideas, and the music starts getting repetitive.  Most of the punches are pulled during the first half of the album, and it just kind of coasts to the end.

Which brings up my final complaint: the end comes just 31 minutes from the start.  Half the tracks are under three minutes, leaving you with the feeling that he really left lots of territory unexplored.  I felt like some of the tracks (Move Over Mama, for one) were great ideas that were cut short; there was more they could have offered had Earle taken them to their logical conclusions.

The whole album gives me the feeling that Earle could be a much better artist if, instead of cranking out a new album every year, he would spend more time developing the material he comes up with.  Harlem River Blues is perhaps the foundation of a great album, but falls way short.

Addendum: Looks like J.T.E. may still have some sobering up to do.