What does it sound like?:
Justin Townes Earle’s whole life has been played out in public, from his dysfunctional childhood, his tumultuous relationship with his father, Steve Earle, his abuse of alcohol and drugs to his development as a songwriter and performer of Americana. He is now thirty-five, clean, married and a soon-to-be father. This album, Kids In The Street, finds him looking back on his past with clear eyes, while still being rooted in a positive present. It smoulders with confidence.
He may have been looking for something different by leaving Nashville to record for the first time, shacking up in Mike Mogis’s studio in Nebraska, but, there, he has found his true self. Earle likes his Country pure, his rockabilly rollicking, his bass slapped and his horns Memphis. All of these are present and correct in spades. In addition, there are dirty blues, slow dance weepies, gutbucket r&b and blue collar rock. He even finds room for a murder ballad. For a man well known for his melancholy, the rockers are especially enjoyable, with spiky guitars, kicking drums and fun lyrics. These dozen songs are no longer budding with potential but blooming fully in an impressive bouquet.
Champagne Corolla is an immediate attention grabber, clattering along pleasingly, a tribute to a Toyota car of all things, or, perhaps, the girl doing the driving. Maybe A Moment could be a Bruce Springsteen song right down to the Roy Bittan-style organ. A pedal steel wail introduces the girl sobbing alone in What’s She Crying For. Jaunty piano and handclaps barrel 15-25 through an eventful night on the lash. An acoustic guitar picks away at Earle’s childhood memories for the title track. Afterworders will be pleased to note that he regards 1993 as ancient history. Faded Valentine sounds like an old country classic, so sepia-toned it curls at the ages. What’s Goin’ Wrong is down on its luck but cheered by a buoyant clarinet. Short Hair Woman is the wittiest, brightest performance of all, carefree and uninhibited. I just hope his wife fits the blueprint for Earle’s ideal woman. Same Old Stagolee updates the old story, setting it in a gangland while turning it into a folk song. Both If I Was The Devil and Trouble Is are confessional and boisterously self-deprecating. Finally, There Go A Fool is delicate and poignant. At the end of a broken relationship, Earle cries into the bottom of glass with only a bartender for company.
The album glows with his warm personality. Over the last ten years, Earle has made solid, consistent albums. Finally, he has found the mix of musical styles that suit him best and his songwriting is tighter and more pithy. He’s now gone up a notch from scoring steady sevens to a good eight, edging up to nine with repeated listens. Enjoy.
What does it all *mean*?
Justin Townes Earle is in a happy place and his music is all better for it. It won’t be long before he really blows our socks off.
Goes well with…
A family gathering.
Might suit people who like…
A good time. A range of musical styles. Watching someone emerge blinking in the bright sunlight after long, dark days of recovery. The more commercial end of Americana.