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Monday, Oct. 11, 2010

Justin Townes Earle

Harlem River Blues (Bloodshot Records)

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Justin Townes Earle’s down-home blend of Americana so perfectly marries that genre’s most crucial aspects—indie singer-songwriter sensibilities, shitkicker stomp, rustic twang, Springsteen-esque blue-collar empathy—that his latest might well be served with a side of apple pie.

Here we follow the singer as he goes “Wanderin’” and “Slippin’ and Slidin’” from a “Tennessee spring” back to Chicago’s “Rogers Park,” the whole fiddle-and-organ-punctuated roots affair starting and finishing on a gospel-tinged trip up to Harlem to end it all in the dirty water. Along the way there’s a sad-sack Ray LaMontagne-like tune (“Learning to Cry”), stunning Jackson Browne homage (“Christchurch Woman”), Elvis-style ’50s rockabilly (“Move Over Mama”), working-class heroism (“Working for the MTA”) and enough blue-eyed, cowboy-booted soul to fill a 10-gallon hat. It’s the rare country album that might feel equally at home in a Brooklyn coffeehouse or a west Texas roadhouse. And Earle’s greatest attribute is the grace and wisdom—belying his tender age—to seamlessly shift his battered pickup truck between worlds.