With rich, full arrangements that veer more toward Memphis soul than the country-rock-stomp of his father, Justin Townes Earle's new record is a subtle triumph.
While there's no reason the younger Earle should still worry about his father's shadow, it's right there in the album's opening lines: "I hear my father on the radio, singing take me home again / 300 miles from the Carolina coast and I'm skin and bones again / Sometimes I wish that I could get away / Sometimes I wish that he'd just call / Am I that lonely tonight?"
At 30, Earle has a career-best album on his hands, a sophisticated mix of blues, country and soul that brings in piano, organ, pedal steel, upright bass, strings and horns that all blossom in the live recording and production of Earle and Skylar Wilson.
Lyrically, the album's core theme is identity, and how much of that foundation comes from personal relationships. Careful with his words, Earle writes with a plainspoken style that evokes late nights and empty rooms, those stark moments of personal honesty and reflection.
Album highlights are plentiful in the record's quick 31 minutes: the jazzy "Down on the Lower East Side," the groovy "Memphis in the Rain," the gentle cello and violin sway of "Won't Be the Last Time" and the jaunty walking blues of "Movin' On."
Earle follows the excellent Harlem River Blues with an even better record, basking in the presence of a country-soul muse that fits him perfectly.