Justin Townes Earle, Harlem River Blues, a canceled tour, and rehab. [Album Review]

by oz on September 29, 2010

For those that follow Justin Townes Earle, you probably recall that he was fired from his Dad’s band after developing some “bad habits.” He then found sobriety, his solo song craft, and put out two phenomenal country albums in The Good Life and Midnight At The Movies.

We’re not ones to gossip and normally I’d leave any “off the wagon” rumors off the table, but Justin just announced that his tour is canceled while he enters rehab. The clues have been there.  His tour cancellation announcement features a comment from a fan apologizing for helping him score coke. His Twitter profile has shown some “colorful” rants, including a picture of his bleeding ass.  He was arrested in Indianapolis after reported issues with fans and the venue. I’ve seen him perform many times over the past few years and his stage banter indicated that he may dipping his toes back in the “bad habits” water – like in San Francisco when he praised the crowd for the city’s high grade weed.

I just figured it was medicinal.

On his latest album, Harlem River Blues, there’s a track called Slippin’ and Slidin’ that sums up his situation with autobiographical lyrics (these may not be entirely accurate):

Why do I try my luck?
I should never touch the stuff.
But it shouldn’t make any difference.
As long as I keep up appearances.

This all didn’t come as much surprise. Staying sober in his chosen vocation is like riding a wagon coated in Crisco.  It shouldn’t diminish the quality found in Harlem River Blues, however. This album doesn’t have the stand out tracks that stirred your soul like “Mama’s Eyes” on Midnight At The Movies, but it’s great travelin’ music. “Move Over Mama” sounds like an early Elvis Presley song from the late 50’s, “Workin’ for the MTA” is yet another train song that would make Cash proud, and “Wanderin'” weaves acoustic guitar, fiddle, hand claps and harmonica into a foot stomping barn dancer.

Harlem River Blues didn’t immediately hit me like Justin’s last two albums, but many drives down winding country back roads changed my perspective and I’ve grown to adore it. Justin Townes Earle has been a big supporter of ours.  He stopped in for one of our earliest sessions, performed at our first SxSW party, and even watched a Cubs game with us at Wrigley. I’ve watched addiction take the life of someone close to me and I’m thankful that he had the wisdom to seek help. We wish him the very best of luck in sorting this out we’ll be standing in the crowd when his tour is reignited.

Justin Townes Earle – Harlem River Blues

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

RW September 29, 2010 at 10:58 pm

Was driving through West Texas when I first listened to this – many winding roads and rolling hills. Loved it. Rogers Park is a great track, as well.

Kim_NokiaMusic September 30, 2010 at 3:36 am

This massively bummed me out. The album is ace, booked tickets for the Islington show and then got a cancellation email. Here’s hoping everything gets good again, soon.

MP September 30, 2010 at 6:23 am

Really glad he’s seeking the help he needs. It makes me sad to see talented people throw it all the way on drugs and alcohol. Harlem River Blues is a terrific record and I’d put it up there with Midnight at the Movies and The Good Life.

Sir Indie September 30, 2010 at 6:51 am

Easily listening here. Not really my cup of tea…but I’d jam it on a long, winding road. =)


Oz September 30, 2010 at 6:52 am

RW – yes, this is perfect West Texas music. Great exotic roadkill out there, by the way. I pulled over several times to get a closer look at the armadillos and wild boars.

Woody September 30, 2010 at 10:44 am

I still think Midnight is his best work. This album lacks a Lone Pine Hill or Mama’s Eyes – that one killer track that moves you to your core. And while I like Isbell’s contributions, I would be really interest in hearing these played with the three-piece.

As for his personal issues; I wish him the best. He’s a great musician and very pleasant to spend time with. I hope he’s able to find his way again and continue a productive life both in and out of music.

RhaDoona September 30, 2010 at 12:15 pm

Was wondering when you boys would share this news. Battling addiction is ugly business and I hope he gets the support he needs. We saw him shortly before he canceled the remainder of his tour and the show definitely had different energy than in the past. He remains a family favorite in my house and when my 14 month old signs “music” he basically means “Get the JTE going!”. HRB is in full rotation and I hope there will be more to come.

Steve September 30, 2010 at 1:58 pm

Personally I think he went off the deep end and showed signs of trouble when he fired Cory Younts. Those guys were best friends who had been playing music together for over a decade. You never leave your wingman. Justin is an incredible guy who’s been through so many struggles in his life. I wish him the best, musically and personally.

DBTChicago September 30, 2010 at 10:39 pm

sad to hear. i have a personal connection with justin as i am close to many at bloodshot records in chicago.

i hope he finds himself on a steady road soon because life can really jerk you around.

he makes beautiful and timeless music. in fact, i danced to mama’s eyes with my mom at my wedding last weekend in atlanta.

Shirk October 1, 2010 at 8:33 am

Congrats on the nuptuals, DBTChicago

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