Justin Townes Earle
Harlem River Blues


4.0
excellent

Review

by Tyler Munro EMERITUS
September 16th, 2010 | 37 replies | 12,136 views


Release Date: 2010 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Justin Townes Earle sings the blues. Really well, actually.

Contemporary roots songwriters can easily fall victim to a number of crutches, and Justin Townes Earle--son of one country legend whose named after another--gets subjected to each of them. More important than who or where he comes from, it's Justin's tendency to drift into the doldrums of new, alternative country that hold him back. That's what makes Harlem River Blues a resounding success; It's decidedly more Presley than Adams (Ryan, not Bryan), with some Waters (Muddy, not Roger) thrown in for good measure.

One thing that really sets Harlem River Blues apart from its contemporaries (not that any come to mind) is its timeless vibe. Not unlike M. Ward's Post-War, Harlem River Blues sounds as though it could have just as easily been released forty years ago. There's a distance between Justin's voice and his guitar, but never a separation. It's hard to to explain, but you'll know it when you hear it. Call it the jukebox effect. I will, and do. Another thing that distinguishes the album? The songs.

Justin Townes Earle is clearly a charismatic dude and his energy and enthusiasm carries the album from start to finish. The album's title track, a textured, hip-shaking blues number loaded with backing vocals and an organ, is taken to an even higher level with Justin's guitar and vocal work. He's never fancy, but you always get the sense he could be. His confidence and talent is palpable, but his restraint is most impressive. Even at his most varied, Earle's range is never forced. “Rogers Park” and “Slippin' and Slidin'” take Springsteen to the south, only, y'know, with horns; on “Learning to Cry” Earle sounds like a Johnny Cash incarnate, yet each song sounds totally in line with the modern country of “Christchurch Woman” and the rockabilly stomp of the slap-happy, bass-dominated “Move Over Mama”.

Of course the album isn't perfect. You won't find a "Waiting Around to Die" or "Copperhead Road", but not every album needs a classic to be one. And no, it's probably not a classic. Some songs aren't as good as others, and at times the album might seem like it's about to lose its footing but it never does. Its front to back one of the strongest roots albums to come out this year (not The Roots, though it's better than How I Got Over).

Harlem River Blues is Justin Townes Earle's crowning moment. It's relaxed without being tiresome, vintage without being gimmicky. Most importantly, it's great. The songs are great, the lyrics are great and there's not a weak song on it. My biggest issue is the reprise. Not because it's kind of pointless (though it is), but because it actually works pretty well as an intro. How do I know this? From playing the album front to back more times in a row than I'd care to admit.



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user ratings (23)
Chart.
3.7
great

Comments:Add a Comment 
Tyler
Emeritus
September 17th 2010



7928 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I don't know why the album art won't show up.

Fucken 'ell.

Tyler
Emeritus
September 17th 2010



7928 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

your point?

Tits McGee
September 17th 2010



1876 Comments


I dig some country from time to time, so I may keep this is mind to check out.

Tyler
Emeritus
September 17th 2010



7928 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

There isn't much country on this album, truth be told. It's basically a folky blues album. Lots of energy and charisma. Check out the title track: here's him performing it in a record store. Skip like 45 seconds in.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TLIN17QcXN8

If people can get into Tallest Man on Earth there's nothing stopping them from digging this. Especially since Earle can actually sing.

Tits McGee
September 17th 2010



1876 Comments


Yeah man I dug that track. Nice stuff going on here, so I'll put this on my to get list.

americanmusicmachine
September 17th 2010



3953 Comments


Love JTE. I'll have to check this out see if Hastings has got it and shit.

klap
Staff Reviewer
September 17th 2010



10239 Comments


ryan adams rules

Digging: The Bilinda Butchers - Heaven

Deviant.
Staff Reviewer
September 17th 2010



30859 Comments


I think if more than one person tries to add the artwork and they get approved at the same time it creates the blank white box. I chucked it back up for you

Digging: Calyx and Teebee - FabricLive.76

jrowa001
September 17th 2010



8750 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

i have liked the songs i have heard from this. will check the whole thing out soon

Tyler
Emeritus
September 17th 2010



7928 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Sigh has nothing to do with this album dude, I don't know why you'd even bring them up.

Gyromania
September 17th 2010



15164 Comments


sounds cool man maybe ill check it out although i checked out that sigh album you 5ed earler this year and i didnt like it too much

hahaha


iranscam
September 17th 2010



469 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

His dad rules, the man his middle name comes from rules, he probably rules. Need to check this out.

patroneyes
September 17th 2010



1919 Comments


this sounds real cool. review was fun to read, too.

Circa4life
September 18th 2010



289 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

This is really really good.

Consigliere
September 18th 2010



228 Comments


This is awesome, this site needs more blues reviews....

Sepstrup
September 18th 2010



1563 Comments


You're a good writer. And aside from the fact that I don't like metal, you have an awesome taste in music.

Digging: How to Dress Well - What Is This Heart?

DiceMan
September 18th 2010



7068 Comments


It's basically a folky blues album


So like... Americana? Cause that's what the specific genre is called... Not sure if this is necessarily it though cause I haven't listened to it.

Tyler
Emeritus
September 18th 2010



7928 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

It's got enough of a country influence to blur it all together. That's why I went with roots music; it's a nice, warm and all inclusive blanket

DiceMan
September 18th 2010



7068 Comments


Alright I guess I'll have to check it out I guess then.

Ugh just listened to a song by this guy only country song I've ever liked.

Douglas
September 19th 2010



9049 Comments


gotta get this



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