Justin Townes Earle “Kids In The Street” (New West Records, 2017)

 

For his eighth album Justin Townes Earle has adopted some different approaches. It’s the first time he has worked with a producer (Mike Mogis -Bright Eyes and First Aid Kit) and the first album he’s recorded out with Nashville, travelling to Omaha, Nebraska to lay it down. On a more personal level Earle says, “Life has changed a lot for me in the last few years. I got married and am ready to become a father and this is the first record I’ve written since I got married… When I wrote songs in the past, I was looking in on what I was feeling but this record’s about looking outward on what’s happening.” One or all of these circumstances have certainly worked as Kids In The Street is as good as any of his previous releases but also its perhaps his most consistently entertaining disc.

Throughout the album Earle kind of wallows in various  Americana roots styles including blues, honky tonk, New Orleans swagger and classic rock’n’roll. He’s ably assisted by his band and the additional musicians rustled up by Mogis (who plays a fine assortment of guitars and banjo) with the album having a warm and varied texture to it. As such the album rumbles along in a similar vein to Ry Cooder, Los Lobos and  The Blasters (to name a few) as Earle sings about cars and girls but there’s also an element of looking back at the album’s core as he revisits his childhood in East Nashville with a couple of more personal numbers. He opens with a sly inversion of the usual glamorous gal in a hot car scenario on Champagne Corolla as he celebrates his girl’s sensibility in having a car that “can run a week on just one tank.” The song barrels along with a fine thump, fat guitars and a horn section sounding for all the world like Los Lobos or The Blasters with some New Orleans swirled in. This New Orleans feel is amplified in the Professor Longhair inspired piano that dominates 15-25 while Short Hair Woman is a slightly lascivious gumbo of a song with rattling percussion, funky B-3 organ swells and Steve Cropper like guitar lines. Trouble Is echoes the Sun Records rockabilly sound and, as with all the above, it finds Earle rooting around rock and R’n’B roots and conjuring up his own personal versions. Amidst all these rock rumblings, Earle sings with a laconic air, his voice never strained.

It’s not all hi-octane however as Earle offers up the soulful There Go A Fool and the hook laden Maybe A Moment which is as fine a recollection of adolescence as anything delivered by John Mellencamp. What’s She Crying For brings Earle’s right hand man, Paul Niehaus, to the fore on pedal steel on a fine countrified shuffle and there’s more country on Faded Valentine where Earle delves into George Jones or Willie Nelson territory and comes up smelling of roses while What’s Goin’ Wrong has a laid back Western Swing feel to it with clarinet fills. The band sound is stripped back for Same Old Stagolee as Earle updates an old blues chestnut that’s enlivened by some vibraphone and the chilling If I Was The Devil is a dark derivation of John Lee Hooker as if he were being backed by Booker T.

The style of the title song goes back to Earle’s earliest recordings as he sings of growing up in the nineties in East Nashville, the song inspired apparently by the gentrification of his old stomping grounds. Niehaus’ pedal steel adds a fine melancholic air to Earle’s guitar picking.

 

 

Author: Paul Kerr

Still searching for the Holy Grail, a 10/10 album, so keep sending them in.

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