ROUTES & BRANCHES
a home for the americana diaspora
June 4, 2017
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust
Back in the saddle here at R&B HQ, after nearly two weeks on the road. Glad to be making noise on the mic, piecing together a playlist of stuff that will hopefully mean something to somebody out there. Even after two weeks gone, not a bunch of debuts for this Episode, though a generous amount of good stuff. Lee Bains III & the Glory Fires, something from Alabama Shakes. Plus, looks like we're fast approaching the halfway point for 2017, which means a mid-year favorites list can't be far behind.
Speaking of which ... let's take a look at Justin Townes Earle's excellent Kids in the Street. It's a record that starts with a bang. Several of them, to be exact, leading into the collection's most upbeat, immediate tune, "Champagne Corolla". But let's step back a bit and enter the album at a different point.
Jump to track 5, the title cut, which opens with a delicately picked acoustic and a childhood memory. This ain't the way it was back in 1993 / Now those weren't better days / But they still meant something to me / When we was kids out in the streets. It's the sort of beautiful picture of days passed that most of us can sketch from memory, the streets, the shade, the long afternoons (even if those bygones were from '93). The guitar is joined by a sepia toned slide and a simple bass line for an evocative and melancholy effect. And while some of the songs rock and some swing and several drip with soul, Kids in the Street spends the majority of its time directing our gaze to the rearview mirror.
This backward glance is more frequently about the music than the lyrical content. From his dress to his choice of arrangement, Earle's first half dozen records haven't been shy in reappropriating signs and signifiers from the past. Rather than coming across as a retro figure or a costumed performer, it's a suit that fits him naturally, one that he wears with no irony. With its strolling piano, "15-25" bears the stamp of early rock. "Faded Valentine" showcases Earle's finesse as a crooner, while "What's She Crying For" is a died-in-the-wool honky-tonk ballad.
At heart, Kids is a laid back, comfortable collection that goes down real easy. "Maybe a Moment" sets a perfect mid-tempo pace, the narrator making his case to escape the comforts of town and possibly parental expectations for a ride beyond the safe city limits. I got a bottle of Thunderbird in the trunk / I know a place if there's anything you want / This old man runs a store / They sell anything that you ever want / But I don't know what time it closes up / So think about it / But baby don't take too much time. It's a heartland roots rock take on "Born to Run" or "Jack and Diane".
Justin Townes Earle will win no awards for his enunciation, though he does have a great way with a vocal. He's as engaging as a trad country poke on "What's She Crying For" as he is delivering the folk-blues "Same Old Stagolee". He's at his best while surrounded by the trappings of soul, such as the horns and keys driving "Champagne Corolla". Like Ron Sexsmith, there's the concern that such a comfortable and laid back style might come across as disinterested. In Earle's case, however, he simply sounds confident in front of all these musical backdrops. Since his earliest EP, 2007's Yuma, through his breakthrough with 2010's Harlem River Blues and the one-two punch of Single Mothers and Absent Fathers, he's proven to be a capable interpreter of roots music of all stripes. Even if it adds little new to the equation, Kids in the Streets finds Justin Townes Earle at the top of his game.
- Kris Kristofferson, "Turpentine" Cover Stories: 10 Years of the Story (Looking Out, 17)
- Colter Wall, "Codeine Dream" Colter Wall (Young Mary's, 17)
- Lillie Mae, "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" Forever and Then Some (Third Man, 17)
- Vandoliers, "Juke Joint Lover" The Native (State Fair, 17)
- Bonnevilles, "Machine Born to Think" Listen For the Tone (Alive Naturalsound, 17)
- Left Lane Cruiser, "The Point is Overflowing" Claw Machine Wizard (Alive Naturalsound, 17)
- Richard Thompson, "Tear Stained Letter" Hand of Kindness (Ryko, 83)
- Alabama Shakes, "Killer Diller" American Epic Sessions (Sony, 17) D
- Harmed Brothers, "A Lovely Conversation" Harmed Brothers (Fluff & Gravy, 17)
- John Moreland, "Lies I Chose To Believe" Big Bad Luv (4AD, 17)
- Lydia Loveless, "Desire" Desire/Sorry (Bloodshot, 17)
- Matthew Ryan, "Battle Born" Hustle Up Starlings (Ryan, 17)
- Drive-by Truckers, "Daylight" Blessing and a Curse (New West, 06)
^ Justin Townes Earle, "Kids in the Street" Kids in the Street (New West, 17)
- Todd Adelman, "My Town Too" Time Will Tell (Adelman, 17)
- Jason Eady, "Black Jesus" Jason Eady (Old Guitar, 17)
- Benjamin Booker, "Overtime" Witness (ATO, 17)
- Jason Isbell & Amanda Shires, "If I Needed You" Gentle Giants: Songs of Don Williams (Slate Creek, 17) D
- Jason Isbell, "If We Were Vampires" Nashville Sound (Southeastern, 17)
- Leeroy Stagger, "Joe Strummer & Joey Ramone" Love Versus (True North, 17)
- Steve Earle, "Fixin' to Die" So You Wannabe An Outlaw (Warner, 17)
- Southern Culture on the Skids, "Hittin' on Nothing" Liquored Up & Lacquered Down (Orchard, 00)
- Lee Bains III & Glory Fires, "Underneath the Sheets of White Noise" Youth Detention (Don Giovanni, 17) D
- Bobby Charles, "I Must Be in a Good Place Now" Bobby Charles (Bearsville, 72)
- Lucinda Williams, "Crescent City" Lucinda Williams (Rough Trade, 88)
- Amanda Anne Platt & Honeycutters, "Diamond in the Rough" Amanda Anne Platt & Honeycutters (Organic, 17)
- Deslondes, "Hurricane Shakedown" Hurry Home (New West, 17)
- Mastersons, "Transient Lullaby" Transient Lullaby (New West, 17)
- Glossary, "Through the Screen Door" Feral Fire (Young Buffalo, 11)
- Dan Auerbach, "Waiting on a Song" Waiting on a Song (Nonesuch, 17)