Like the radsters who invented the Snuggie, Justin Townes Earle has created something we didn't know we needed. Harlem River Blues is a boardinghouse-sized hunk of country/blues inspired by Earle's adopted home of NYC that is as sunshiny as it is saturnine.
The title track is a delightfully upbeat song about committing suicide. Earle breezily sings, "Tell my mama I love her, tell my father I tried, give my money to my baby to spend/'cause Lord, I'm goin' uptown to the Harlem River to drown." A joyous suicide? While still in God's good graces? Choosing fate rather than tempting it? Hallelujah!
"Workin' for the MTA," captures the toil of working for the NYC transit authority much as a Handsome Hat might sing of the rails up in Cheyenne, but drudgery is drudgery whether in the big city or real America. With dripping pedal steel and confessional lyrics à la Hank Sr., "Learning to Cry" might sound derivative to some, but Earle's Buck Owens-esque delivery makes for a ballad Nashville surely wishes it could still produce.
Over the course of four albums Earle's tinkering has improved both lyrically and musically. Blues isn't quite a Snuggie but it's darn close.