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Justin Townes Earle Kids In The Street

By Brian Rock

It only takes about two seconds into Justin Townes Earle’s new release Kids In The Street to realize that he’s beginning a new chapter in his storied career. Gone are the introspective, acoustic and often somber tones of his previous two albums (Single Mothers and Absent Fathers). Here instead is a strident, ebullient, almost celebratory tone. The sparse, two to three instrument arrangements have been replaced by a wide array of accompaniment, most notably a Memphis-style horn section. And there’s more Memphis than Nashville on this record, as Justin Townes Earle joins the growing list of artists in the dynamic and burgeoning Soul-Americana subgenre.

The opening drum beats of “Champagne Corolla” hit you like an insistent, police-raid knock on the door, as indeed Earle kicks open the door to this new chapter of his career.  With electric guitars and pounding drums, Earle sings about the simple pleasures of watching a “pretty little thing riding by in a champagne Corolla.” The lyrics are simple, direct and delivered with plenty of swagger. It is by far, the rocking-est tune in Earle’s catalog so far.

Later, Earle continues to spread his wings with the autobiographical, Zydeco-flavored “15-25.” Singing about those tempestuous years of his life, he confesses, “I got low and I got high. I got moving fast, then falling behind. Oh fifteen. Fifteen to twenty-five. But I always had money, don’t ask me how. Always had a place to stay, though I bounced around.” But instead of lamenting his troubled past, he celebrates it with a Mardi Gras party rhythm, complete with Professor Longhair inspired piano runs.

“Short Hair Woman” is another testament to Earle’s new extroverted musical style. It’s a Jazz/Rock fusion with syncopated organ riffs that propel the song forward, as Earle sings about the need for a simple woman with no hint of vanity.

“Trouble Is” starts off on a bluesy acoustic footing, but adds musical layers with each subsequent verse, culminating in a choogling, barrel house rhythm.

But Earle also pays homage to his roots with plenty of old school Country and Americana. “Faded Valentine” is wonderful Country Blues. But even here, the addition of mandolin adds more texture and emotion than his previous “unplugged” efforts. “There Go A Fool” is another standout ballad. The whole song is layered over a humming organ. Electric guitar is used sparsely to mimic the weepy lyrics, and finally a horn section is added to punctuate the mood; all of which creates a richly textured atmosphere where Earle is able to weave a tale of heartbreak where he subtly switches the target of his accusations from his old lover’s new flame back to himself.

Earle even immerses himself in some Delta Blues with his clever, third person retelling of the old classic, Stagger Lee on “Same Old Stagolee.”

It’s always exciting to discover a great new artist. But it’s equally rewarding to discover a favorite artist taking a great new leap in his career. This is that album for Justin Townes Earle. Kids In The Street, is confident, accomplished and consummate. Or, to paraphrase Pete Townsend, “The ‘Kids’ is alright!”

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Brian Rock

Brian Rock

Brian was raised gypsy style, moving every other year until well after college. As friendships proved to be temporary, Brian found a constant companion in music, wearing the grooves off Beatles and Dylan albums before moving on to Lyle Lovett and Dwight Yokam. Living so often in flux, he has come to value music and lyrics of lasting quality. Not moved by trends or fashion, he is drawn to timeless lyrics and soulful rhythms. Although now settled down, Brian still expresses his gypsy spirit through his writing. He has co-written songs with musician friends he’s met along the way, including several contributions to the 2012 ICMA Album of the Year, Family Album. Brian also writes children’s books and poems, including the Children’s Book Council featured title, The Deductive Detective.
Brian Rock

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