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Harlem River Blues

4.6 out of 5 stars 61 customer reviews

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Product Description

Harlem River Blues straddles not only the Mason-Dixon, but time itself. As versed in Mance Lipscomb as he is in M. Ward and sporting Marc Jacobs suspenders, Justin Townes Earle is a man beyond eras.With Harlem River Blues, a record that's perfect for late Indian summer nights on either the front porch or fire escape, Justin's found yet another way to be a timeless original. Justin won Best New & Emerging Artist at the 2009 Americana Music Awards. Midnight at the Movies was named one of the best records of 2009 by Amazon, received four stars in Rolling Stone, and was praised globally.


He's fully absorbed his genetic and cultural heritage and draws upon both with great skill and dimension an utterly distinctive voice that takes what's come before and artfully moves it forward with the power of a certain steel-driving man. --LA Times

HRB delivers in spades what his two previous offerings hinted at...the songwriter drops 11 weighty originals steeped in American musical traditions yet bearing his own inimitable lyric and stylistic signature. Earle proves that he is a force to be reckoned with, in these grooves he embodies the history, mystery, and promise of American roots music. As strong as his first two albums have been, it always seemed as if Justin Townes Earle was holding something back... it was hard not to suspect that someone as talented as he is could do even more. On his third album, Harlem River Blues, the singer-songwriter proves those suspicions were well-founded, expanding his sound and adding just the tiniest bit of pop sheen without sacrificing the intimacy and sense of timelessness that marked his previous work. It all fits together beautifully, creating one of the year's best albums. --American Songwriter

A voice crying from some distant reverb of misfortune, and chilled with the lethal kind of conviction that moves mountains. --The Independent (UK)
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Product Details

  • Audio CD (September 14, 2010)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Bloodshot Records
  • ASIN: B003UW1QYY
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (61 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #46,652 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Mark #1 HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on September 13, 2010
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Harlem River Blues is the kind of album that makes me wish that more people I knew listened to Country music. I run in several different musical circles. Many of the jazz lovers I know laugh at me for my love of Indie Rock. And for many of the Indie and Alternative Rock fans I know, the Alternative-Country thing doesn't exist. To them there is only Country, and they don't like Country music much.

But an album like this can remind us that good music is just good music, no matter what category you want to put it in. I'll even go so far as to call this "great music" because it resonated with me personally in a way that I think is great. Your individual tastes may vary so please forgive me if this is not your cup of tea.

Some people might think a country album inspired by New York City to be a contradiction. I think the juxtaposition works to great effect. The city was once a rural settlement, and away from the business centers and high rises there are still areas that remind you of a different time or place. Not to mention, the city has always attracted people from the country looking for a living. This album is like a chronicle of the songs that just one such lonely soul might have written after moving to NY from Tennessee.

Some of the songs are more upbeat romping tunes, like the title track "Harlem River Blues" and the very fun "Move Over Mama." And perhaps the best of the bunch, "Ain't Waitin'," has an infectious melody that just fits so perfectly with the lyrics. But by and large, this is a laid back relaxing album, the kind you might play on a Saturday afternoon.

My favorite song on this album is tough to pick.
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I was waiting patiently for my cd copy when Amazon dangled a three dollar download in front of my face. Seemed like a fair price to pay to hear it a day early. Things sure have changed for Justin. He grew up without famous father Steve, developed a nasty drug habit by the age of 12 and actually ended up in his father's band The Dukes. That was before he was given the boot for his drug use. Kicked out of The Dukes for drug use? Considering pop eventually went to prison for his drug use, I can only imagine. These days, Justin is the 2009 best new artist for the Americana Music Awards, one of GQ's best dressed men and a resident of New York City just like his dad. "Harlem River Blues" is a hillbilly soul, backwoods twanger of a dustbowl folk album about New York City. Some of my favorites include the gospel choir backed, toe tapping title track. Should I be clapping my hands as the main character heads for a watery demise in the Harlem River? "Move Over Mama" sounds straight out of the Memphis Sun Studios playbook. "Workin' For The MTA" and "Wanderin'" sound like Justin is channeling former Manhattan resident Woody Guthrie. 'Christchurch Woman" sounds the most like his father to me. I could go through every song but why don't you just buy it? Download it, order the cd, do both, I don't care. This is a record that deserves to be heard by a man who started out knowing what he was doing and seems to only be getting better.
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It takes a certain brilliance to dupe listeners. Justin Townes Earle pulls it off marvelously. HARLEM RIVER BLUES sounds like it could have been been written/performed in the 50s or 60s (except "Rogers Park," which is appropriately modern-sounding). It's a largely acoustic-based record ("Slippin' and Slidin'" is a more electric blues number), with melodic influences firmly rooted in Robert Johnson, Chuck Berry, etc. "Ain't Waitin'" is such a tune, with a driving acoustic riff that conjures up beer halls and back alleys...which is why, when he sings "I put a country station on that satellite radio," it comes off as a major revelation.

Almost every song on here manages to blend the past and present. On "Working for the MTA," a chugging number which artfully (and subtly) compares running a subway train to working in a coal mine, Earle bemoans: "This ain't my daddy's train/Mama I ain't seen the sun in days." Lyrically, Earle comes off as a mixture between Warren Zevon and lighter Dylan ("Christchurch Woman," for example, is one of the most poetically imagined songs I've heard in a while); he's concerned with the working man, and to him, the working man is Everyman, from the days of freight trains to the days high-speed Internet. As such, HARLEM RIVER BLUES comes off as one of the more intimate, intricate country/folk records I've had the distinct pleasure of listening to. Justin Townes Earle easily slides out of his father's (Steve Earle) shadow, crafting an album that is destined to withstand the test of time--because these songs, both melodically and lyrically, are themselves timeless.
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Harlem River Blues is an amazing album filled with eleven tracks of gospel, alt-country, rockabilly, soul, and blues influenced music that is as much fun as any album I've listened to in years. It's the kind of album you put on and sing along with every word and feel better for having done it. The most upbeat album in JTE's catalog, Harlem River Blues eschews the melancholy moods of Single Mothers and Absent Fathers and Townes Earle's earlier albums in favor of an upbeat record filled with joy and beauty. I highly recommend Harlem River Blues to anyone who loves good music artfully done.
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