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Justin Townes Earle

Kids in the Street – 2017 (New West)

Reviewed by Robert Wooldridge

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CDs by Justin Townes Earle

With "Kids In The Street," Justin Townes Earle moves comfortably between country, blues, folk and rock. The strongest country tunes are the traditional sounding weeper "What's She Crying For," featuring slick pedal steel guitar work from Paul Niehaus, and the catchy ballad "Faded Valentine," a sweetly melancholic tale of lost love that highlights producer Mike Mogis on mandolin.

The nostalgic title track finds Earle reminiscing about his unspectacular childhood in the '90s ("No those weren't better days/But they still meant something to me"). Several tunes recall the work of Van Morrison, including the moody "There Go A Fool" and "Maybe A Moment." The bluesy rocker "15 - 25" is the tale of a troubled soul whose violent ways ("I hurt some people, hurt some bad/Most had it coming, I got no regrets") land him in prison, but he maintains a level of optimism ("I know I'm probably lucky I survived/I could be doin' twenty-five to life").

With the acoustic ballad "Same Old Stagolee," Earle offers his take on the often chronicled murder most prominently portrayed in the 1958 Lloyd Price pop hit "Stagger Lee," even acknowledging the numerous versions of the tale ("So the story done been told/Time and time again/Same old means, same old end/Same old Stagolee"). The lone cover is an effective acoustic folk take on Paul Simon's "Graceland."

The instrumentation is solid throughout particularly with producer/multi-instrumentalist Mogis (banjo, various guitars), Niehaus (electric guitar, baritone guitar), Ben Brodin (keyboards), Miwi La Lupa (trumpet) and Andrew Janak (clarinet, saxophone). Though Justin Townes Earle will never fully escape the shadow of his famous father, Steve Earle, "Kids In The Street" nicely compliments his own growing legacy as an accomplished singer/songwriter.