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Produced by Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes, First Aid Kit) at his ARC Studios in Omaha, it the first time Earle has ventured outside for a producer and removed himself from Nashville to record. It works perfectly. There is no musical hangover or any fallout. Non-whatsoever! As Justin Townes Earle nails every single song like only he can.
A full decade has passed since JTE started out on his journey as a full-time recording act, and with his 2015 albums Single Mothers and Absent Fathers to live up too Kids On The Street had to be something special. Although in the minds of some, myself included, the above recordings weren’t up to his usual standard. Despite what has been quoted in the press. On hearing Kids In The Street I am more inclined to agree more than ever. For here the music is more fluid, as he uses soul and hints of blues in his work, the wonderfully talent Paul Niehaus is ever prominent (pedal steel, electric, acoustic guitar), nothing new there.
Niehaus in joined in the band by Scott Seiver (drums, percussion), Max Stehr (upright bass) and Ben Brodin (piano, electric piano, B-3 organ, pump organ, clavinet and vibraphone). Mogis himself though he is listed among the other players he gets to perform on all manner of guitars, banjo sexto, banjo and percussion.
In all he includes 12-songs, and with his great affinity to working people and those of modest income in particular, JTE speaks of how family meant everything to them. If born in another time I can well imagine Earle living in a house with little but electricity, and running water but no indoor plumbing and a banged up Chevrolet for transport. Few are better at establishing a killer groove. Plus you have his acute observational skills and ability to absorb stories he’s heard. Bring these characters to life alongside Earle’s own remarkable, true-life experiences. Here is an area he will only get better at as years roll by.
His struggles with drug abuse and drink problems have threatened to derail his musical career more than once, and it hasn’t helped his personal life too much. Right now he is settling into parenthood, married life and crafting songs that speak of him looking forward, outwardly, at what is happening (writing about gentrification and inner city strife). ‘There’s definitely an uplifting aspect to this record in a lot of ways, because I’m feeling pretty positive’.
As for the songs the listener is pretty much spoilt when it comes to highlights for the album doesn’t have any lows. The songs are all in and around a benchmark set by him. Few come any finer than “Maybe A Moment” as he speaks of going up to Memphis because there’s nothing doing at home through the week, and of having a bottle in the trunk. Free flowing as the wind, the B-3, mandolin and glorious rhythm help take the listener on the journey. While with horns also at his command he hits plumb centre with “Champagne Carolla”, on going a step farther down the line “15-25” has a lot of soul ease from its veins as JTE once again travels the country.
Chugging along to an early 1960s country rhythm, the beautiful pedal steel and piano adorned “What’s She’s Crying For” could just as easily have come from something written by Harlan Howard or Hank Cochran for Patsy Cline. Looking back to his youth you have “Kids In The Street” as he speaks of the loss of the poorer middle class area of Nashville where he grew up. The mellow feel of the song carries forth to “Faded Valentine”, and with it in turn followed by “What’s Goin’ Wrong” containing tasteful brass, upright bass and pedal steel he skilfully straddles blues, jazz and country like only he can. On getting up a head of steam he produces a typical energised, if there is such a thing JTE creation as the hooky, and a little bit funky and chaotic too “Short Hair Woman” picks up the slack.
Next out of the chute he performs the wonderful acoustic blues cut, “Same Old Stagolee” as he revives music of the past and it fits like a glove. He pretty much stays in the mode with the moody, eerie darkly coloured B-3 decorated “If I Was The Devil”. Free flowing “Trouble Is” has him back in the groove as he spins another JTE treasure, loose and effortless he performs a classy tune as easily as you would turn on the tap at kitchen sink. No one does it better! There I have said it again. “There Go A Fool” closes the album in a fashion like he was raised in streets where you heard nothing but Memphis soul, and not Nashville the home the reported home of country music.
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