Just because you like his dad’s music doesn’t mean you’ll line up for Justin Townes Earle (you may have seen him performing with his well-known father, Steve, on the season-ending episode of HBO’s Treme). Justin didn’t receive a free pass in the music biz when he began releasing albums a few years ago, but he proved he was a promising newcomer to keep an eye on.
Harlem River Blues, his third release, is where Justin truly hits his stride. The album is brimming with skillfully written and performed original music that fits nicely in the American roots music genre. Even though it is steeped in American music tradition, Justin covers a lot of territory on this record. He opens with the catchy title track in a shuffling rockabilly style, adding horns to other more R&B-influenced tracks, a steel-guitar-led tune which sounds right out of the Woody Guthrie songbook, and a country fiddle tune influenced by A.P. Carter. The backing band provides the proper mix of instrumentation, and the well-produced arrangements also do not overstate Justin’s intentions. There’s no stinkers in this collection, Harlem River Blues is simply a well-balanced, talented turn by a young musician who we’ll no doubt hear a lot more from in the future.