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Harlem River Blues

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Justin Townes Earle's previous records were promising — if uneven — offerings that revealed a considerable talent trying to find his own musical identity as a songwriter, apart from his parental heritage. It may have taken him three albums, but Harlem River Blues delivers in spades what his earlier offerings only hinted at. With co-production by Earle and Skylar Wilson and the backing of a killer, intuitive band, the songwriter drops 11 weighty originals steeped in American musical tradition yet bearing his own inimitable lyric and stylistic signature. The title track is an electrifying rockabilly-cum-truck-driving shuffle adorned by slapping bass, guitars, snare and cymbal, and a Hammond B-3. Despite the upbeat tempo and finger-popping rhythmic thrust, Earle's lyrics reveal the protagonist's intention to commit suicide by drowning. With a country gospel vocal chorus complete with handclaps on the refrains, the lyrics and music are intriguingly at odds; somehow the sense of near gleeful purpose in the protagonist's view — revealing a sense of relief at the prospect of release from this plane of existence — makes the tune gell. On the breezy summertime groove of "One More Night in Brooklyn," the Tennessee backwoods meets the urban street corner, led by guitars, a skeletal drum kit, Wilson's vibes, and a popping upright bass. "Move Over Mama" is a scorching rockabilly-and-reverb number, full of erotic bravado à la Warren Smith or Billy Lee Riley. (And does that bass ever get slapped!) "Wanderin'" captures the spirit of early Bob Dylan under the influence of Cisco Houston and Woody Guthrie, but the lyrics and sense of necessity and acceptance of the situation at hand are pure Earle. With a country fiddle added to the mix, you can also hear traces of early string bands and even the ghostly presence of A.P. Carter in the refrains. The horns on "Slippin' and Slidin' marry the late Eddie Hinton's brand of Muscle Shoals R&B to laid-back country rockabilly. The narrative love song "Christchurch Woman" is among the moving things here; Earle's vocal is underscored by a female backing chorus and organic instrumentation that also includes beautifully arranged horns — as if Tom Waits' "Downtown Train" or "Jersey Girl" were filtered through Memphis R&B and Waylon Jennings' early-'60s country. "Ain't Waitin'" is a rockabilly blues, so skeletal it could be played on the back porch. Anyway you cut it, Harlem River Blues is utterly balanced, skillfully crafted, and exquisitely written and produced. Earle proves that he is a force to be reckoned with; in these grooves he embodies the history, mystery, and promise of American roots music.


Né(e) : 4 janvier 1982 à Nashville, TN

Genre : Auteur-interprète

Années d’activité : '00s, '10s

In some respects, Justin Townes Earle seemed destined from birth to be a musician — his father, Steve Earle, is one of America's most acclaimed singer/songwriters, and he was named in part for Townes Van Zandt, a close friend to Earle and an equally legendary tunesmith. But Justin also grew up learning the downside of the musician's life, and came up against some of the same demons that haunted his father. Born in 1982, Justin Townes Earle didn't see much of his dad through most of his childhood;...
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