Artist: Justin Townes Earle
Album: Kids in the Street
Label: New West
Release Date: 05.26.2017
Justin Townes Earle has released critically acclaimed albums but this, his debut for New West is his best effort yet. His companion albums, Single Mothers (2014) and Absent Fathers (2015) had some poignant moments, but perhaps because the themes were so dark and the music so stark, I didn’t return for many repeat listens. There’s a relaxed, laconic vibe to this one though even though the deep emotions are still there. It’s still got that part-Nashville, part-Memphis groove but is infused with more blues.
Not only is this the first time that Earle has worked with an outside producer, it marks some dramatic life changes that influence the tone and messaging of the songs. Earle explains it this way, “Life has changed a lot for me the last few years. I got married and am getting ready to become a father and this is the first record I’ve written since I’ve been married. There’s definitely an uplifting aspect to this record in a lot of ways, because I’m feeling pretty positive.” Earle goes on to describe how this record as more outward-looking, depicting gentrification and inner city strife as well as being more blues-based than anything he has done prior to this. Much of this album is Earle’s view of the town where he grew up, Nashville, where lower middle-class neighborhoods, like those he grew up in, are now being overridden with condos and high rises.
This also marks the first time that Earle did not record in Nashville, choosing instead to do it in Omaha, with Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes, First Aid Kit). Mogis assembled a basic quartet of players to back Earle and supplemented them with horns, reeds, cello, and added textures via the numerous instruments that he himself played. Andrew Janak’s lilting clarinet in “What’s Gone Wrong” is just one stellar example of surprises peppered through these lush accompaniments.
Tracks like “Champagne Corolla,” “15-25,” “Maybe a Moment,” and “Short Hair Woman” have a catchy, bouncy, rhythm while the title track and “There Go a Fool” are more contemplative and folk-like. “What’s She Crying For” and “Faded Valentine” are great straight-ahead country songs while “Same Old Stagolee” and “It Was the Devil” are purely blues. The variety of styles and shifting tempos keep the listener engaged as Justin Townes sings more emotionally and soulfully than we’ve heard him before. The now sober, more mature Justin Townes Earle has arrived and given us a very strong album.