Justin Townes Earle

“Harlem River Blues” – Justin Townes Earle

A nice, chugging bit of country-like indie rock, and right away one of the fun things is that we’re talking about New York City here. The juxtaposition is purposeful, and while Earle’s dad Steve has done a bit of this, the senior Earle has been less inclined to make out-and-out country music since moving to Manhattan in the mid ’00s. The son however is clearly on a mission to give listeners a good helping of cognitive dissonance as he deals, on his new album, with rivers and trains and other country-music-like subjects in the context of a gritty, crowded urban landscape.

Another point of dissonance: this chipper-sounding toe-tapper tale is a tale of someone apparently planning his suicide, jumping into the aforementioned Harlem River. Earle, with an agreeable, textured voice, gives himself a huge choir to back up his declaration and, not to make light of it, but if you’ve gotta go, that’s the way to go. Maybe the narrator is so beaten down by life he’s charged up by the idea of ending it, or maybe he’s finding a renewed interest in living via his specific ideas about where he wants to die, but he’s got style either way. Another layer at work here is that Townes Van Zandt, the revered but troubled songwriter after whom the younger Earle is named, had a long flirtation with suicide himself. Yet more subtext: Earle, still just 28, has a previous history of drug addiction, like his father.

“Harlem River Blues” is the title track to Earle’s fourth album, released this month on Bloodshot Records. MP3 via Bloodshot; thanks to Largehearted Boy once more for the lead.