Justin Townes Earle mixes up the JTE sound, yet again, remaking his trademark with the help of Jason Isbell on this tribute to New York with “Harlem River Blues” and the metaphoric lines “Lord, I’m goin’ up town to the Harlem River to drown, Dirty water going to cover me over and I’m not going to make a sound,…troubled days are behind me now and I know they are going to let me in.” In a gospel sing a long Justin starts a song cycle about his other hometown.

New York now has its own album full of Country blues flavored Americana. It continues with true JTE style on the second track “One More Night in Brooklyn” similar to the breakdown of slower material from “The Good Life”.

Before continuing the ode to New York, “Move over Mama” with its straight up Rockabilly is my personal favorite.  The driving upright Bass of Bryn Davies and “Get Back-Billy Preston” style electric piano, paces at the same rate as the classic “Move it on Over” with the change up of “Mama you been sleepin’ in the middle of the bed too long”, it is a great response to that old Hank Williams classic, “Move it on over, cause this big old dog is moving in”. Clocking in at two minutes, “Move over Mama” would be a great 45 vinyl in the jukebox alongside some classic Sun Records.

“Workin’ for the MTA” is a train song for a “its cold in them tunnels today” Subway Train worker. I don’t know if there ever has been a train song about the subway, but, this is a story of a second generation “son of a railroad man from south Louisiann’”. He is able to make the connection between his Dad and the trains but “this ain’t my Daddy’s train, I ain’t seen the sun for days.” It references the current hard times but he is working and “banking on the MTA”.

It could have been easy to find a muse in Tennessee or Mississippi, but, this is New York City. He is now a full time resident of the Big Apple along with other artists such as Punch Brothers. I haven’t been up there lately, but, maybe there is kind of a folk resurgence going on like in the days of early Bob Dylan that followed through with songwriters like Simon and Garfunkel.

There is enough Blues; Muscle Shoals horns with Jason Isbell’s stand out guitar track “Slippin’ and Slidin’” followed by the next stand out track “Christchurch Woman”.  “Christchurch Woman” is a great lead in from the previous album “Midnight at The Movies”, in fact it could be a B-side “when I feel this blue, I just need somebody laughin’ at my jokes”. I guess a Christchurch Woman is easy going. In the end he says he will probably get sick of her.

The Good Life

If you are looking for a mix that sits either like “The Good Life” or “Midnight at The Movies” forget it. While the instrumentation sounds similar with the addition of some distorted licks  by Jason Isbell, he even goes to mixing his voice a little thinner on the frequencies with a little delay or echo like early sixties Nashville West-Bakersfield out of Capitol Records ala Buck Owens.

The Yuma Era

 It is interesting there are fans who only swear by his self-released “Yuma” waiting for Justin to do that one again. Okay, I admit I am with the ones that stand by “The Good Life” as the best yet, but, there is enough “Good Life” such as “Ain’t Waitin’” in this album to keep me happy, without needing to return to that masterpiece. Justin has developed his own sound, style and presentation that draws just enough on the past masters such as evoking Jackson Browne on “Rogers Park” to show a strong songwriter lineage.

He is a workaholic with a string of four records in four years. It looks like Jack White has met his equal for not only amount of output in a short period but creative ability. In much the same way as Songwriters and Recording Artists worked in the Fifties and Sixties before the advent of Fleetwood Mac “Rumours” and Def Leppard “Hysteria”, it is going back to being about the music and not bombastic production.

In a comparison, The White Stripes as a two piece band were able to keep moving, keep the production overhead low while spreading the show around the country and Justin was able to travel light with just a notebook full of songs and a sideman when he travelled opening up for Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit last year in support of “Midnight at The Movies”. He could have been out with a full band, but it kept him from eating bologna sandwiches every night as an opening act.

Live at The State Room, Salt Lake City, UT, spring 2009

Jason’s music is strong enough that he can do it with a full band or as a Troubadour like when I saw him at The State Room in Salt Lake City in mid 2009. Enough people showed up for his opening slot and crowded the front of the stage to catch the vibe and check out his unique finger style on the guitar.

I don’t think he will be able to go out much more by himself unless it is an in-store appearance at Grimey’s or something similar.  Justin has three Bloodshot albums in three years, enough material where some fans are going to be upset because he didn’t play the song they wanted to hear. The closest thing I have seen to a full band was about the time of the release of “The Good Life” at The Basement when he had a couple of others playing fiddle and mandolin.

Ramones

I did get a chance to meet him back in the beginning of 2008. I just thought it was great that something like “The Good Life” was out there and Nashville had gotten behind him.  A lot of music has been recorded since then. For some, that would be a careers worth, for others, like The Ramones, he is just getting started.

– Brad Hardisty, Nashville, TN      thenashvillebridge@hotmail.com

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