x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Justin Townes Earle: Harlem River Blues

There's not a bad single on Justin Townes Earles latest album as he steps out of the shadows of his predecessors and shows what a gifted singer-songwriter he is.

Justin Townes Earle

Harlem River Blues

(Bloodshot)

The Paris-based Bulgarian philosopher Tzvetan Todorov once wrote about originality in art: "We can always find predecessors for a new work, but we could not have predicted that work from its predecessors. There really is novelty." Justin Townes Earle is the son of the legendary country rocker Steve Earle. He was given his middle name in honour of Townes Van Zandt, the late, gifted singer-songwriter. Their influences are evident throughout Justin's four-album career, from the narrative-based songwriting to crisp instrumentation. His first three albums, the EP Yuma and the full-length The Good Life and Midnight at the Movies, are rooted in traditional country, which in these pop-crossover days of Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood would put Earle on the margins, like his father, or others who have come to country from outside Nashville: Waylon, Willie, the Bakersfield boys, Guy Clark and Bonnie "Prince" Billy, his contemporary. Although the influences are evident in Earle's latest, Harlem River Blues - in the syncopation of lyrics and the slide of the pedal steel - its 10 songs (and one short, choral reprise of the title cut) move Earle from his Nashville birthplace to the Bowery of New York where he now lives. He steps out of the shadow of his predecessors and becomes the novel singer-songwriter he is. There's not a bad track on the album, but the most Podable songs are: Harlem River Blues, Ain't Waitin', and Slippin' and Slidin'.

Also out this week

A-ha

25

(Rhino)

While their atmospheric and supremely well-crafted synth pop always set them apart from other 1980s boy bands, a two-disc retrospective of "hits and classics" is something of a stretch of the Norweigan trio's repertoire - as is the claim that their career lasted 25 years (a hiatus in 1994 lasted most of the decade). Disc two of this 39-track compilation largely consists of material from their leaner years, while disc one contains all the stuff you'd want and expect (The Sun Always Shines on TV, Take On Me, I've Been Losing You, The Living Daylights etc), all which can be owned as part of the band's first two albums, Hunting High and Low and (the highly impressive) Scoundrel Days - both much wiser investments.