Harlem River Blues
Longtime readers may remember me waxing lyrical about Justin Townes Earle’s Midnight at the Movies, a disc which was right up there with my favourite albums of 2009. I’m not sure whether I’ll get my act together a list of my favourite albums for 2010 together, but if I do I can promise you Townes’ new album, Harlem River Blues, will be on it.
One of the strengths of Earle’s earlier albums was the way the drew upon the roots and country traditions Earle grew up in (as his name suggests, he’s the son of Steve Earle and was named for Earle Senior’s friend, Townes van Zandt). On Midnight at the Movies that sense of tradition was married to a richer sound that made songs like the title track more radio-friendly than Earle’s first album, The Good Life, but which also meant the album as a whole sometimes seemed a bit over-produced.
That’s not a charge that could be levelled at Harlem River Blues, an album that strips away the slicker studio sound of Midnight at the Movies and lets the energy Earle’s writing and performance come to the fore. Part of it’s about the band, who play like there’s no tomorrow, bringing an infectious, growling immediacy to the material, but it’s also about the songs themselves, which draw on the full spectrum of American music, from bluegrass to country, gospel and blues, a tradition that’s equally apparent in the album’s nods to singers and songwriters from Woody Guthrie to Dylan, and its loving sense of American musical history and iconography.
I’ve pasted in a couple of tracks below. One’s of the the foot-stomping title track, the other’s an interview and live performance of one of the other real stand-outs on the album, the Memphis-influenced ‘Slippin’ and Slidin”, but they’re only two cuts from an album filled with gems like ‘Wanderin”, the aching ‘Christchurch Woman’ and the Springsteenesque ‘Rogers Park’. Despite having to cancel tour dates in the US for personal reasons earlier this year Earle’s now back on the road and will be in Australia next year for Golden Plains (and presumably other dates around it). I reckon that’d be one show worth catching.