Roots musician Justin Townes Earle brings measured maturity to his third record, the half-hour, 11-track outing Harlem River Blues. Like his father, Steve Earle, Justin’s songs are versed in mortality, transformation and American imagery.

Harlem River Blues is a blending of urban and rural that displays Earle’s Tennessee upbringing and current residence in New York City. On the folk-rock title track, Earle emulates Billy Bragg while singing about one man’s determination to end his troubles: “Lord I’m going uptown to the Harlem River to drown.”

Earle proficiently replicates rockabilly with arousal exhortation “Move Over Mama” and on the most effective piece, the country-blues “Workin’ for the MTA,” Earle restructures a typical railroad story into a new generation’s labor in the subway. Earle’s overcast, self-assured voice adds weight to lyrical details of loss, hope and convictions, and he gets poised backing from former Drive-By Trucker Jason Isbell, Calexico’s Paul Niehaus and other like-minded friends.

Grade: B



Harlem River Blues is currently available.