Justin Townes Earle & the Essence of American Music

September 26, 2010 · Print This Article

Reminiscent of times past, Harlem River Blues draws upon many influences creating an album that could easily capture a multitude of audiences.  From the graceful whine of the steel guitar to soulful horns to walking bass lines, Harlem River Blues captures the essence of American music.

As the son of singer-songwriter Steve Earle and named for Townes Van Zandt, Justin Townes Earle was bound to musically shine at some point in his life.  I think Harlem River Blues announces Earle’s arrival in the spotlight.

Though each song on the album would most likely fit in a different era, Earle’s songwriting allows his music to transcend decades.  In fact, if it weren’t for the lack of vinyl static and his mention of things such as “satellite radio,” one might feel transported to country music’s golden history.

Each track seems to build upon the one before it creating smooth transitions of sounds that take the listener on a journey from Brooklyn to Tennessee and even Chicago.  The album’s title track, “Harlem River Blues”, kicks off the record with familiar bluesy country riffs, and each consecutive track is a pleasure to the ears.

“One More Night in Brooklyn,” has an infectious quality that causes automatic hip swaying as Earle sings, “One more night in Brooklyn.  Baby, we’re getting lost.”

The third track on the album, a fast moving tune with an almost rockabilly inclination, “Move Over Mama,” is about a woman that has become too comfortable being alone.

“Slippin’ and Slidin’,” employs gritty guitar, wailing horns and poignant organ to lull the listener into a soulful, musical coma.  As Earle sings, “Darling, I just need a little company.  Ain’t seen the sunrise since I don’t know when,” emotion wells up in the listener inspiring empathy for the singer’s lonely journey.

The next track, “Christchurch Woman,” is noteworthy as well with a gently rolling rhythm and witty lyrics that one will be singing after a few listens.  With quick guitar riffs and steady piano, it’s sure to be a crowd pleaser.

Harlem River Blues is a lovely, melancholy foray into the world of Americana.  Justin Townes Earle is a truly gifted songwriter and musician that has learned how to harness the journey of life in music form.  Though not his first musical accomplishment, Harlem River Blues possesses qualities bound to set it apart from Earle’s previous records.

“Lord, I’m goin’ uptown, to the Harlem River to drown,” opening line of “Harlem River Blues.”  The only drowning involved in this album is the ability to drown out your surroundings while listening to it. –Amelia Tritico

Harlem River Blues was released on September 14.  Justin Townes Earle is on tour.


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