Since launching his recording career a decade ago, Justin Townes Earle has established a reputation as a singular leading light in the Americana music community. With fearless, personally charged lyrical insight and infectious melodic craftsmanship, the young veteran singer-songwriter has built a rich, personally charged body of work.
Now, on his seventh album (and New West debut) Kids in the Street, Justin Townes Earle raises the creative and personal stakes to deliver a deeply soulful set that’s both emotionally riveting and effortlessly uplifting. Taking himself out of his creative comfort zone and assembling a new set of collaborators, Earle has created one of his most potent efforts to date, reflecting all manner of new influences upon his life and his art.
“Life has changed a lot for me in the last few years,” Earle reflects. “I got married and am getting ready to become a father, and this is the first record that I’ve written since I’ve been married. There’s definitely an uplifting aspect to this record in a lot of ways, because I’m feeling pretty positive.
“When I wrote songs in the past,” he continues, “I was looking in on what I was feeling, but this record’s more about looking outward on what’s happening, and writing about subjects like gentrification and inner city strife. This record also has more of a soul influence to it, and it’s got a deeper connection to the blues than anything I’ve done before.”
Earle’s current level of inspiration is apparent throughout Kids in the Street, on which such tunes as “Champagne Corolla,” “Maybe A Moment,” “Faded Valentine” and the haunting title track paint vivid, vital portraits of characters at the mercy of forces beyond their control. Elsewhere, Earle’s personalized update of the trad blues number “Stagalee” recasts that outlaw classic in modern terms, and his reading of Paul Simon’s “Graceland” (included here as a bonus track) locates the gospel/blues number that’s always been at the song’s heart.
Several of Kids in the Street‘s songs reference the lower-middle-class Nashville neighborhoods of Earle’s youth, which in recent years have lost their character to the creeping scourge of gentrification.
“Nashville has really changed for the worse, and it’s not the same place it was,” Earle notes. “The song ‘Kids in the Street‘ is about that, and uses the names of streets in the neighborhood I grew up in. So does ‘Stagalee.’ My mom left the neighborhood long ago because of gentrification. And where she lives now is now the new site of gentrification; her property taxes have gone up to where she can’t afford. I don’t know where the hell she’ll move to next, because there’s no more working-class neighborhoods in Nashville.”
Kids in the Street is, significantly, the first Justin Townes Earle album not recorded in Nashville. Instead, he cut the songs at TK in Omaha, Nebraska with producer Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes, Rilo Kiley), who helps to lend the album a distinctive sonic sensibility that’s well suited to the songs’ lyrical immediacy, and which brings out the best in Earle’s heartfelt performances.
Now embracing marriage, sobriety and impending fatherhood, Justin Townes Earle is enthusiastically looking to the future. “I can’t say if I’m getting better, but I’m definitely evolving as a songwriter,” he states. “That’s my goal, to soak up new things and be aware of seeing life from a different point of view. The only thing I hope is that, in some shape, form or fashion, each record I make is better than the one before.”
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