Justin Townes Earle “Harlem River Blues”

width=300The apple never falls far from the tree.

By Andy Whorehall

Harlem River Blues is the 3rd full length release by the young and talented son of Steve Earle.  Like father, like son, Justin Townes Earle marches to well-crafted melodies and rhythm rooted in Americana music.  Also like his father he has a penchant for attracting trouble with the law at a young age which can distract from or hopefully enhance his craft respectfully as it’s done for his elder.  If he follows his father’s creative lead, he’ll be fine.

What sets the son apart from his father on record is the lack of an apparent vocal twang.  Earle’s soulful vocal is anything but a hand me down trade. His deep, rich voice holds together the seams on a record dabbling in gospel, country, folk, pop, blues.  Sum it up as pure honest soul, this is the sound of the younger Earle coming into his own.

Earle’s third record in 3 years stands out more than many other Americana genre artists because of its organic production & attention to subtle song detail by Earle and Skylar Wilson. Close your eyes and pretend these are the sounds played by men in suits from old bars in big city neighborhoods or small town saloons long forgotten. Highlights include the title track, it’s outro and Slipping and Sliding with Rogers Park.

With regards to that last song mentioned;  he may not like to hear it but many young music fans let down by Ryan Adams’ wandering ways after his only full length release for Bloodshot Records, Heartbreaker, will find exactly what they wanted next or have been waiting for in Justin Townes Earle’s Harlem River Blues, especially with a chorus to kill for on Rogers Park.  A place I’m now vaguely familiar with.

Please consider that a compliment, Justin.  These are the songs of people and places we all know, remember or are vaguely familiar with.  Snapshots of a city, neighborhoods and people long gone or on it’s way out captured by an observer.  A songwriter-storyteller’s great gift to have & document.  Just like that badass old man of yours, you’ve got the gift and this beautiful third record is your bachelor’s degree bee-lining for that doctorate sooner than later.

Harlem River Blues is a great 2010 American record that the respected elder Earle & his own peers should be proud of. With respect to the son, I can’t wait to listen to what kind of tree these young roots you’ve planted continue to turn into.


{For further listening, enjoyment and an understanding of Justin Townes Earle’s musical roots: listen to anything his father has put out as well as his father’s mentor, friend & great American songwriter, Townes Van Zandt.  A well of material deserving it’s own article- a book’s worth actually.}

Justin Townes Earle "Harlem River Blues"Andy Whorehall

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