Justin Townes Earle is a singer-songwriter steeped in American. Having just released his eighth album Kids in the Street, we find opener ‘Champagne Corolla’ typical of Earle – bluesy and rootsy with welcome flourishes of brass and a driven beat. ‘Maybe a Moment’ is more country flavoured but the lyrics are a tad clichéd. How many times can you listen to songs about going to Memphis and couples running away from it all before you get the feeling you’ve been here before? Nonetheless, the delivery is both confident and competent and the musicianship can’t be faulted. ‘What’s She Crying For?’ is laid back lap steel with a heavy honky-tonk vibe. Of late this seems to be the instrument of choice emanating from certain quarters of the American scene, though whether it is meant to represent ideas of authenticity or a folky worthiness is hard to tell. It all sounds a little bit familiar.
’15-25′ has a great shuffle beat and a sliding bass line that lifts the album, the song opens up on a great boogie-woogie piano line. Earle’s vocal delivery is laconic and smooth and it contrasts well with the the uptempo mood. ‘Kids in the Street’ is a mournful ballad of childhood and reminiscence that has shades of Van Morrison in his mellower moments (think Astral Weeks). The song highlights just how powerful a narrative lyric can be. ‘Faded Valentine’ compares a lover to an old and yellowing Valentine card, which looks rather terrible written down I know but has a romantic quality when sung. ‘What’s Going Wrong’, ‘Short Haired Woman’ and ‘Same Old Stagolee’ follow a familiar formula of country, blues and folk (as evidenced by the use of that bandit Stagolee).
‘If I was the Devil’ is old school blues considering the moral decrepitude of man. It is suitably weighty and certainly a standout track in an album that for the most part is lacking in these kinds of moments. ‘Trouble Is’ and ‘There Go a Fool’ are both fine songs but as with some of the earlier material, they seem overly similar and dripping in cliché.
We live in dangerous times and sometimes the music we consume needs a bit of bite. It needs to make us think. Kids in the Stree, while a professional and able effort, is an album that says very little.