As 2010 draws to a close, it seems that Justin Townes Earle‘s year will be remembered for one thing: His well documented troubles at Indianapolis’s Radio Radio that resulted in his arrest and subsequent entry into rehab. That’s a total bummer because it ends up that Earle released an album that was nothing short of stellar, an album that should far overshadow the troubles the singer’s faced personally.
Since starting his solo career in 2007, Earle has released one album each year, each just as good (if not better) than the last and that trend has culminated with this year’s Harlem River Blues.
While not as immediately accessible as Earle’s previous release, last year’s Midnight At The Movies, Harlem River Blues is not without it’s charms and those charms are many. From the title track’s obvious appeal to the subdued flirtations of “One More Night In Brooklyn” to the confessional “Rogers Park”, Harlem River Blues is filled with memorable tracks, the appeal of which last long after the proverbial needle has been lifted off the record.
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The appeal of Harlem River Blues is in it’s timelessness. Were any track off the album to be played on the radio nearly a century ago, it would have fit right in with the artists that Earle claims as influences (So long as the drug references and occasional dirty words were left by the wayside). “Wanderin'” is a prime example of this with it’s storytelling lyrics that find Earle doing just what the song’s title implies, backed by a mean fiddle and an infectious chorus of hand claps. It’s blatantly obvious at every turn at Earle knows to compose music and he does it with an extremely deft hand.
Harlem River Blues‘ title track is a song that’s so catchy and lovely that when it makes a reappearance in the album’s reprise, it’s a welcomed reemergence. With “Harlem River Blues”, those not familiar with Earle will find themselves, in a span of two and a half minutes, totally knowing what to expect as Harlem River Blues marches onward. The song is a perfect example of what Earle is all about – Catchy, affecting music that is a throwback to country kings of yore like Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, and Woodie Guthrie.
Harlem Rivers Blues is a solid record, from start to finish. The fact that it isn’t Earle’s best is quite an accomplishment in itself because even at his worst (Well, maybe not his worst…) , what Earle is releasing is better than most artist’s best cuts. Is it selfish to hope that, despite the personal turmoil, the “One Justin Townes Earle Record A Year” trend will continue into 2011?