Sep
14

Review – Justin Townes Earle’s Harlem River Blues

September 14, 2010 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  74 Comments

I first knew something was up with Justin Townes Earle when I saw him at South by Southwest in March. At the Bloodshot Records showcase, he showed up on stage wearing a bowtie, and baby blue-colored pants three sizes too small with white shoes. I also spied that the spectacles of his fiddle player had no glass in them, they were for show. Hey, I’m all for dressing the part, but JTE was out Pokey LaFarg-ing Pokey LaFarge. And when he started singing, I don’t know, he was just acting very weird and it came across in the music. He had a weird look on his face, similar to the one stilled in the video below, which was taken shortly after his set while he was still in the same duds:

I had a good context to make these judgments because I’d seen and interviewed him just six months prior at Portland’s Pickathon, where I said he was the “one stand out performer out of the dozen plus acts I saw.” Earle was the talk of Pickathon, and the talk of SXSW. He’d landed a bunch of accolades from the Americana crowd the year before, and there was a sense that he had “made it” in music. But there was also talk of JTE’s “problems” that would come up unprovoked when speaking with other artists and fans and such.

What problems? I don’t know. They didn’t tell, and I didn’t ask. When I had talked to JTE in August, he’d mentioned his previous drug problems and had alluded that he was sober. Following his Twitter Tweets, that is clearly not the case now. Don’t know if JTE’s sobriety was the source of these “problems,” but the months after SXSW the whispers had yet to die down. The old music maxim is that “he/she was good ’till they got sober.” Maybe JTE would embody the antitheses. The JTE whispers were also alarming because he was like the football first round draft pick that fell to the fourth round because of “off the field issues” when he entered the music business. Was JTE getting too big for his shrunken baby blue britches?

When I got an advanced copy of Harlem River Blues, it immediately struck me as music specifically created for optimized NPR play, and I used as an example of NPR’s Adverse Effect on Roots Music. My suspicions were validated when NPR offered a full preview of the album through their site. In a lot of ways this was unfair to the album and to JTE, because I was using it as the pet example for what is really happening to a wide swath of the music landscape. But nonetheless, it was true.

I’ve given this album more than it’s fair amount of listens for a project that did not strike me the first few times through, because of who its from, and how that person fits into my ethos. (His previous album Midnight at the Movies was my Album of the Year for 2009.) I must say that this album is not bad. There’s nothing wrong with any of these songs. It doesn’t really mark a clear change in style. As far as the production, of which JTE is primarily responsible for, I would grade it a 9 out of 10, with the only criticism being that at times it was a little heavy handed. But the arrangements display a very wise ear and imagination, and the performances live up to Justin’s vision. The breadth and layers of some of these songs is quite spectacular.

But production can only go so far. There’s no meat here, no body. No soul, no blood, no deep roots–just aping and parody that is orchestrated, arranged, and packaged very well. I keep listening, waiting for those one or two songs that will cling to me so I can use them to buoy together an affinity for this project, but they haven’t come. Even the songs solicited as the standouts don’t do it for me. “Wanderin’” (see video above) is probably the best track, but in this instance the heart of the song seems buried under all the production. “Christchurch Woman” sounds like a rehashed “Midnight at the Movies,” and “Ain’t Waitin,” though I want to like it, seems hokey and the line about “satellite radio” is out of place with the neo-traditional mood.

The beauty of what JTE did with his first three releases was take vintage textures and inject them with relevant, modern themes that were universally relateable. Then with songs like “Mama’s Eyes” and “Someday I’ll Be Forgiven For This” he said screw the neo-traditional bit and laid down heart-wrenching truth. The buzz word with this album has been “mature.” I don’t understand this. My adjective would be “safe.”

This is how hipsters and hippies must have felt when Hank III released Straight to Hell; not disappointed as much as disenfranchised. This is not what I dip my bucket in the JTE well for. It makes you want to listen to his older records immediately to get the bad taste out of your mouth. Or it least it did me. But the pro-Harlem River Blues crowd doesn’t need to worry about my mixed review, I have no doubt this album will be his most well-received yet. After all, look at these great blurbs:

“If you’re not listening to him or checking out what he’s wearing, you should be.”

-Esquire Magazine

“As versed in Mance Lipscomb as he is in M. Ward ad sporting Marc Jacobs suspenders,

-The Salt Lake Tribune

See, JTE’s fashion maven girlfriend and Manhattan digs has made the opinions of an angst little blogger virtually irrelevant, so no worries.

One gun up for the superb production, musicianship, and for the satisfactory songwriting. One gun down for the complete lack of soul.

There’s nothing really “country” here either, though this is more of an observation that a specific criticism of this music.

You can preview all tracks or purchase the MP3 for a limited time for $2.99 by CLICKING HERE.

74 Comments to “Review – Justin Townes Earle’s Harlem River Blues”

  • I think you hit the nail right on the head. I really don’t think I’ve been this disappointed by an album in some time.

    Like you said, there is nothing gripping about it. No soul, nothing that makes me believe what he’s singing about, unlike the first two albums which drew you in, and kept you there.

    I’ve given it more listens, and I really want to like it, but I just can’t get into it.

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    • Me too. People should appreciate when they read this review that I really want to like this album. I’ve tried.

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  • I’d take a million mature JTE songs to one song played on today’s country radio station. I’ve heard that old broken record before too: someone can’t be good without the drugs/alcohol/blahblahblah. Just not true. Didn’t they say the same thing about SRV and he insisted that after he was clean and sober he could actually enjoy performing and see the looks on people’s faces. The people who came to hear him. Maybe you don’t like this contribution all that much Triggerman, and maybe you’re a little disappointed. I get it. “Complete lack of soul” I don’t get. Really if you want to get down to it, when an artist is hot and everyone is waiting for the next project, the pedestal can be pretty high.

    Great blog Triggerman

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    • I think this a reverse case of the drugs and alcohol argument. His first two albums, by all accounts, he was clean and sober for. This one he wasn’t.

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      • Yes, this is the reverse from what people usually say, and I agree Denise, sobriety gets a bad rap when it comes to music. I’m sure that it is sometimes true that music goes bad when people go sober, but in just as many cases it is not.

        For the record I really have no direct knowledge about JTE’s sobriety or lack thereof, and normally I would say it is none of my business. But his recent behavior has come up so many times and in so many different contexts lately that I think it is a relevant element when discussing his music, esp. if you’re going to be critical and are looking for reasons.

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        • I dunno if he’s off the wagon, but he was certainly on it during the recording of his first two albums. Go read a little bio. He was in his dad’s band, got kicked out because of his problem, went through lots of drama (including a couple of dramatic overdoses), and then got clean and sober. All that was before he started his solo career.

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          • He’s been dressing like that onstage for at least a year and a half also.

            I have no opinion about his recent behavior, but get the facts straight. Nothing about the way he’s presenting himself is particularly different from what he’s been doing for a good while. (Except for the relatively new band.)

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          • Whatever Jamie. You start off by pretty much repeating what I said up above, and then say I don’t know anything about this guy. I’m a JTE fan, I have been since Yuma. I’ve been following him as a journalist for over two years. I’ve interviewed him. I named Midnight at the Movies my Album of the Year last year. I don’t need to read his bio, because I pretty much friggin wrote it. I’m heartbroken over this album. Don’t come around here sticking your finger in my eye for being uninformed, because if you’ve been around here you’d know I might be one of the most informed people on JTE.

            And no, he wasn’t were baby blue slacks and white shoes two years ago. And I don’t want to characterize that he’s fallen off the wagon because I don’t know his personal situations, but I know from his Twitter feed that he’s drinking.

            If you want to criticize my take on his new music, please do. But bashing me for being uninformed is laughable. Try again.

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          • You liked the last record. Good for you. It was one of my favorite records last year too.

            If you care about not turning off new readers who would probably like your work, you might be less of a dick. I know I’m putting the burden on you to be courteous, but it’s your website. I can go elsewhere. Also, when you act like a dick it makes you seem defensive and less smart than you actually are. What you wrote in response is essentially what dumb 14 year old girls do when they get into a fight. “You don’t EVEN know ME!”

            No I don’t. This is the first time I’ve run across you.

            I rather enjoyed your “NPR” essay, by the way, and you’re getting at something that I think is important. I’d have got after T Bone Burnett as a more obvious symbol for the homogenization of roots music (although he’s produced a lot of records I rather like), but still. Right on. You’re worth reading. Slow the fuck down and don’t be so goddamn defensive.

            I admit to one and a third errors.

            I misread your discussion of his having fallen off the wagon, and what you wrote makes perfect sense. If he’s drinking, it might account for the rumors of “problems” floating around. And man, if JTE is having that sort of trouble, it is heartbreaking, and I hope he cuts that out.

            The trouble is that I didn’t read particularly carefully and didn’t follow the convoluted move you made to argue that the “antithesis of better when he’s high” nonsense. Long day, several tabs open on the browser, sloppy reading, my bad. But you know, mass media writing should expect that kind of reader.

            I admit to being slightly (very, very slightly) off with the comment about how long he’s been dressing like that. I misremembered a show from last summer as having been last spring. He’s been wearing variations of that particular getup (bowties, pastel suits, white shoes, straw hat) since at least August of last year, but not for every show.

            Here he is a year ago at the show I was remembering. It’s a shitty video, but those crazy white shoes are pretty identifiable. He wore a coat during his set and took it off for the encore, which is what this is.

            The suit in this video is pink, rather than blue, so there.

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2HCAVkhqRXI

            In any event, I’ll try to be less tired if you try to be more straightforward, and both of us can avoid looking like assholes.

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  • I actually bought this today along with “The Guitar Song”, and my first impression is that it’s boring, to be honest. I pretty much agree with everything you said, but maybe it will grow on me in time. Who knows?

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    • NIcole, you found Guitar Song boring also? Sounds like all the other stuff on the radio with one exception: He’s TRYING to sound more classic country. Still same ole same ole though. Just because JTE’s current album isn”t as good as Midnight at the Movies doesn’t mean all that much to me.

      I always have and always will prefer live performances to recordings. Triggerman is point on with the excellent mastering and studio sound. We all know some songs are just better live than recorded and vice versa.

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      • Guitar Song sounds like everything else on the radio? What radio stations do you listen to? Because last I checked, there isn’t a damn thing on the radio that sounds like any songs on The Guitar Song.

        I think you maybe one of those folks that thinks just cause Jamey has gotten some mainstream industry recognition, that he is a sell out, so you have to not appreciate him or you wouldn’t be staying true to your “underground roots”.
        You should check into what Jamey is all about a bit more. If he is boring, then Hank Sr., Waylon, Willie, George Jones, Merle, etc… are boring.

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        • No sir. I know what a sell out is. You may be biased toward Johnson but I know Nashville stink when I smell it. And if you don’t like this site, then why’s you coming here?

          I wonder where he got the idea for Badonkadonk? For you to say Hank Sr, etx are boring just because someone finds Johnson boring is some more stink. What’s your interest in it? If you want to promote Nashville machinery, then go on to the Opryland amusement ride. While you’re there, ask em why Hank ain’t good enough.

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          • so your another that holds Badonkadonk over Jamey for the rest of his life? That is a weak excuse. The song is a joke, comical tune. Jamey wrote it cause he found it funny it ryhmed with Honky Tonk.

            why do I keep coming to this site? I am intersted to see what it is about. The more I continue to read blogs on here, the more I realize that if an artist gets any tip of the cap from Nashville, people think they are selling out and aren’t “true country” enough. There is a reason that Nashville took notice of Johnson. After “The Dollar” got no support from record labels because it didn’t fit the Nashville mold….Jamey put out “That Lonesome Song” on his own dime through the internet, and it got big notice, so a label picked it up. That Lonesome Song and The Guitar Song clearly are not Nashville templates, but Jamey is to good for Nashville not to notice.

            Hank Sr. etc. are not boring. Not in the least. I only stated that since Jamey is clearly influenced by all those legends, and if you found him boring, then it is a reasonable assumption you find those other boring.

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          • I really don’t think Jamey Johnson is trying to, as you put it, sound more country. I think that’s just what he is.

            You can’t hold the Bodonkadonk over his head forever, and for some reason people seem to hold his moderate success against him as well. But in the end the man makes good country music.

            I’m forced to hear country radio all day long at work and I feel pretty confident in saying that nobody else on the radio sounds like Jamey Johnson. He’s the one bright spot in an otherwise dark, souless, wasteland of Nashvilel country.

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      • It’s definitely not like typical radio country. Is trying to sound more like classic country a bad thing? I’d say he tries, and succeeds, while still usually sounding original.

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    • Review for The Guitar Song coming soon.

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      • I’m looking forward to hearing you take on that.

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  • It shouldn’t be about the look, but those dumb face bowtie pictures, combined with this review make want to skip this one.

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    • I agree it shouldn’t be about this look, but with JTE I think it is germane because it goes along with the weird behavior, and also whether he is calling the shot or not, people are using his fashion sense as a promotional tool. I’m not saying that is a bad thing, but if you want to hang your ass out like that, knuckleheads like me are going to take their shots.

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  • Thanks for the Pokey Lafarge tip. More good music.

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    • LOVE Pokey.

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      • YUSSSSS! Meeee tooooo. I think he just made two new fans right Denise :)

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        • Oh please, you just like the way he dresses!
          ;)

          The power of the hyperlink works again!

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          • Ahahahaha. No. I like his music.

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        • Yep Carla! I’m kinda diggin’ the Pokey.

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  • Eh

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  • Er

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  • I’m gutted to read the bad review! Like you I was really really REALLY wanting to like this album. I listened to Midnight at the Movies for months then had the privilege to see him play a live solo acoustic set in a very intimate environment in Auckland. His voice had the most amazing resonance and tone to it that he’d developed since he’d recorded MATM. So I was gagging for the new album expecting wonderful things. I also have a ton of personal respect for the guy because he’s been down to my shitty little country in the south pacific 3 times that I’m aware of, to play here. Man, that’s at least a 20 hour flight from JFK! We don’t get many decent acts tour down here so hats off to him for that. He supported Wilco but I didn’t make it to that gig as I’m not a Wilco fan and all my friends who attended the gig MISSED him as he was playing at 7pm on a weeknight. As for Harlem River Blues: I really dislike the title track but on the NPR stream I was really enjoying some of the other stuff through my shitty little MacBook laptop speakers. They should rename them squeakers. Much of it did sound really overproduced to me and yep, lacking in some ‘soul’ or something intangible, and I wasn’t hearing evidence of that beautiful maturing in his voice either, which I also didn’t hear at that performance you spoke of at SXSW. Where art thou beautiful voice? Having met him briefly a couple of times and found him to be friendly, charming and modest I am sad to hear he’s fallen off the wagon and may be experiencing some personal difficulties. I’ve had alot of friends in the clutches of addiction and know devastating it can all be. Godspeed JTE.

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    • You should listen to the album and make your own decisions Carla. Like I said, this album is getting a lot of good reception, and I’m sure I’m in the minority.

      I wouldn’t call this album overproduced in the traditional sense. At times it feels that way, but I really like the production. I think it is the best part of this album.

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  • The day I give a shit about what my musicians wear, how tight their pants are, whether they wear glasses or not, or how many tattoos they have on their necks is the day I ask you to revoke my rights to read this website and the day I go to the doctor and ask to be made into a pre-teen girl.

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    • Sex change AND age change? The future is now.

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      • This made me smile. Of course the future is now, yes, now, right now at this very moment. Cornstalker might not care about what his musicians wear, but hey don’t have that double standard. You care what your Playboy centerfold might be wearing(or not) your actresses and whatnot, but not your musicians? Cornstalker is definitely a man and like a man, doesn’t care about another man’s appearance, but I do because I’m a woman. It’s really interesting to see how the pendulum swings when it comes to this issue. But I have to insist that it does matter how a musician dresses to a point. Look how Music skidRow has developed all their little protegee’s . . . Dress more like this. All about image. I get what Cornstalker means but image does have an effect, like it or not.

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        • I am a man and I don’t care about another man’s appearance … I’d like to say that I don’t care about a woman’s appearance … but that’s not true. HOWEVER, I think when it comes to my music, I really don’t care what they look like.

          Maybe I’m living in a too-good-to-be true “unicorn-farts-smell-like-lolipops” land, but I gotta say I’d like Rachel Brooke as much if she was beaten by the ugly stick … or I’d dig William Elliot Whitmore as much if he looked like Gene Wilder.

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          • “I gotta say I’d like Rachel Brooke as much if she was beaten by the ugly stick … or I’d dig William Elliot Whitmore as much if he looked like Gene Wilder.

            I’d agree with that statement.

            And again I’ll point out the only reason I mentioned JTE dress is because it coincided with a sea change in his behavior and music, and because it is being used as a marketing tool to promote his music.

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  • JTE is a f-ing geek. Seriously….might have talent, i.e. can play some instruments, but this guy has been eating the same ‘shrooms as Shooter Jennings.

    Get to “The Guitar Song” review. Those that found it boring??? You may want to check the site your on (or what this site is supposed to be about) The Guitar Song is like nothing that has come along in the last 30 years. It isn’t re-inventing anything, it is just back to a way of doing it that is right.

    Lets hear the review Triggerman. See if this site is really what it claims to be.

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    • Don’t have my copy yet. Was supposed to get it in advance of the release date. If I knew it was going to be delayed I would have just bought it. I’ve confirmed its on its way. It might be here today. Then I want to give it some fair listens and then you’ll see an honest review. There’s a lot of songs so that may take days.

      I’m a little worried you and others have pumped it up so much, there’s no way it will live up to expectations.

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      • I agree about it being pumped up too much. I will save my opinion until I’ve had a couple more listens.

        Triggerman, I remember you recently posting something about your reviews being one of the less read aspects of the site. This suprised me. They are some of the posts that I look forward to most eagerly, and it seems like I’m not the only one.

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        • I can see pretty detailed info about how many people read each article, how much time they spend reading it and such through a program called Google Analytics, and generally speaking, reviews do not do as well as other articles. Though there are exceptions (like this one) and that more represents the wide readership. You’re probably right, my core readers probably pay more attention to them, but if I write an article slamming Taylor Swift, it gets three times the traffic.

          You may not be able to tell by reading it, but I probably spent 5-6 hours writing this. That’s a lot of time for something that nets you no money. Yet I do it over and over. What is the definition of insanity?

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      • Fellas, I was worried too. I am a big Jamey fan, and I know that it is hard for artists to live up to expectations sometimes. I won’t tell you that every song is legendary, but 90% of them are jaw dropping. Nothing we have heard in decades. I will wait for your review to comment, this clearly is not a article to talk Jamey, it is JTE. But funny how Jamey gets in the mix on everything recently. He IS that good.

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        • I’m gonna say it…initially, it’s not as good as That Lonesome Song. That’s just a matter of taste though.

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      • Hey Triggerman,

        If you’re still waitin’ on your copy of Jamey Johnson’s “The Guitar Song” you can download it from here – http://sed-de-musica.blogspot.com/2010/09/jamey-johnson-guitar-song-2010.html

        Keep up the good work

        Cheers from Down Under.

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        • Thanks man but I’ve already got it. Review coming.

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    • You sure are quick to label but you think Johnson is the man? Cuz he says all the legends are his inspiration? Every artist in Nashville says the same thing.

      I originally asked Nicole if she thought Guitar Song was boring as well as JTE. She never replied back. You jumped right in and tauted Johnson as the one to overturn the Nashville Pop Country wagon and show the world what real country is.

      JTE is a geek but Johnson is golden? Pfffffffffffffffffffffffffft. Like I said, I know what a sell out is. If Johnson wants to turn it around, he’s got alot more work to do.

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      • I don’t think Jamey is the man cause he was influenced by those legends, I think he is the man cause he is doing things his way and he is damn good at it.

        What if an artist outside Nashville says they were influenced by those legends….does it make it “real” than?
        I guess the question is, can you make your music in Nashville and be respected by those that don’t make their music in Nashville?

        Jamey isn’t showing the world what real country is. He is just simply making his music, which sure as hell sounds country to me (to steal a line from Whitey Morgan) and Jamey could careless if the world notices is. But they do cause it is good.

        JTE is a geek cause he tries to hard. Reminding us that your “not mainstream” every chance you get via clothing or interview, is trying to hard. JTE songs good, but he tries to hard. Just like his daddy did. Just make your music and shut up. I.E. Jamey, Waylon, Willie, Hanks (less HankIII he can’t get out of his own way) etc…

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  • [...] Saving Country Music isn’t quite as sold on Earle’s new direction. [...]

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  • Alright, about this Jamey Johnson stuff, everybody needs to take a deep breath here and understand that were all fighting for the same thing. Waylon4Ever feels passionately about his music, and I think that’s great. There’s others that think he’s a sellout, and that is because we’ve been trained like guard dogs to sniff out these fake Outlaws when they come around.

    To hash through all of this, it probably deserves its own article, beyond any review for The Guitar Song. But until then, appreciate that were all fighting for the same thing here, which is the integrity of REAL country music. THAT is where the passion form both sides is coming from. And also appreciate that there can be differing opinions based on taste, and that we can respect and learn from each other’s opinions to better enrich our music worlds.

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    • Agreed and understood Triggerman.

      I would like to see an article that asks this:
      Can you make your music in Nashville and be respected by those that don’t make their music in Nashville? Can you be “real country” from Nashville?

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      • I have no problem with the fact that people have differing tastes, preferences, etx. It’s very understood. I have a problem with sell outs. I’d name ‘em if I felt like it, but at this point I don’t.

        Can someone from Nashville be real country? Of course. But not if they succumb to the Music Row avenue. Not if they use others to get where they are. Not if they sell out. I know a little about it Waylon4ever.

        You can be real country from wherethefuckisthat, USA. Being from Nashville won’t make you any more country than if you fight from a little honkytonk in Seattle. It might be a state of mind, you know, what makes you country. Force feeding someone an image doesn’t make you an outlaw. Hank III has been fighting that machine for a lot longer than Johnson has, has the real roots to prove to you just how dirty that crap is, and still can’t get the respect from them. So yeah, if you’re suckin’ up to Music Row, you’re sellin’ out. That’s just a small example.

        Honkytonk rhymes with badonkadonk. Ya don’t say . . .

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        • Now your just making no sense. Maybe I am misunderstanding. You said “You may be biased toward Johnson but I know Nashville stink when I smell it.” So it appears your claiming Johnson is a sellout or has succumb to Music Row’s idea of country.

          Please explain how exactly Jamey has succumb to music row or used others to get where he is? Don’t say he wrote “Give It Away” for Strait and rode those coat tails. Because he didn’t write if for Strait. He wrote it for himself and Strait picked it up, wanted to record it. AND Strait isn’t exactly Nashville stink.
          Don’t say he wrote songs for others and used that to get attention. He simply was/is a songwriter and got noticed. Are there other writers that write as well as Jamey? Perhaps, but there were also better writers than Waylon, but Waylon got noticed.

          “Hank III has been fighting that machine for a lot longer than Johnson ” yea, but Hank III also makes some pretty shitty music. Having a group of halloween characters on stage or some idiot screaming in the the mic in the middle of a decent tune for shock value is not going to get you anywhere. If Hank III stuck to making country vs. death metal he might have been able to beat the machine. And I enjoy Hank III when he does country, but lose the assjack act. It is bad. If he doesn’t care about beating the machine, then he should stop bitching about it.

          You can have your opinions and tastes, but your flat out wrong to insinuate Johnson is a sell out or bowing to the Music Row brass.

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          • That’s right waylon4ever, Nashville stink and I stand by what I say. I may not make sense to you, but remember this, Hank III is doing it his way like you insist Johnson is and he can’t hold a candle to Shelton country for country, music for music, talent for talent, sweat for sweat, shall I go on?

            Have at it, waylon4ever, in your crusade for Johnson. I have my reasons for knowing he’s a sell out, and they make so much sense it’d be like slappin’ you in the face.

            I agree with you about George Strait. Didn’t know about that and doesn’t make a difference to me anyway. If you’re gonna come strokin’ Johnson’s tailfeathers you ought to know what sellin’ out is. In fairness to you, you might not have all the information about it.

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      • Well judging from my favorable review of Dale Watson’s last album, that was recorded in Nashville with Nashville musicians in a classic Nashville style, I’d say you could.

        http://www.savingcountrymusic.com/album-review-dale-watsons-carryin-on

        I agree that a knee jerk reaction to something just because it comes from Nashville is unfair. But you have to understand that all criticism is NOT just knee jerking, it has to do with the tired sound and formulas Nashville keeps churning out. Jamey, just like Dale, may be the exception to the rule, well see.

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  • [...] listening to Justin Townes Earle’s new one, this is exactly what I needed. I said about that one that it had no soul. With a Possessed by Paul [...]

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  • I have listened to the CD a couple times now and agree with you that there isn’t that one song on it that pulls at your soul. Your right that there isn’t the emotional heaviness that is on the other two albums. You gave the last album “2009 album of the year” and I myself have stood behind JTE saying he was the next leader of OUR country music. This album fails us all. When I interviewed him last year he was sober and as a guy in recovery I hope that he still is. This new album really fails in the song writing. The music is good, his voice is great as usual, but non of the songs have any real meaning. I stand here with my head held low, I was really looking forward to this album but it isnt that good. I give it a C-. I dont know if JTE was trying to show his musical range or what but its no where near the level of the 1st two albums. I guess we just wait and see if there is a 4th album. Maybe then we will get the JTE that we all know love and respect.

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    • You know, I honestly thought I would find more disagreement with my take on this album, and not just from the hipsters it was made for, but from people we normally associate with. I don’t ever like the idea of talking someone out of liking music that they normally would, save for opening the eyes of someone that has succumbed to the pop country world. But the more opinions I hear, especially from people whose opinions I greatly respect (like IBWIP) my opinions are comforted to know there is almost universal consensus on this album from the underground.

      When talking about the music itself, there doesn’t seem to be any wholesale change in style. But somehow miraculously it does absolutely nothing for me, when before I was as big of a JTE fan as any.

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  • Y’all have to check out this piece from NPR’s “All Things Considered.”

    I don’t mean to keep harping about how I was right all along, but this takes the cake:

    http://www.npr.org/player/v2/mediaPlayer.html?action=1&t=1&islist=false&id=129886628&m=129888737

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  • Denise,
    you gotta a lot to say with no support. “I have my reasons for knowing he’s a sell out, and they make so much sense it’d be like slappin’ you in the face.”
    So slap me in the face. Speak up about your claims.
    If you didn’t know the most simple thing like Strait picked “Give It Away” from Jamey, I question your credibility. Of course I questioned it when your first rip on Jamey was Badonkadonk.
    I will put Jamey up against HankIII any where, any time. Reminder I am a huge Hank Sr. and Randall fan and I am a Shelton fan when he puts down the chip on his shoulder and he addresses his discontent with some crafty lyrics rather than an adolescent “Fuck you”. His daddy did it with crafty lyrics, Waylon and Willie did too. Hell, even DAC does better than a “fuck off”.
    I would like to continue this discussion and hear your support for calling Jamey “Nashville Stink” and a “sellout”. If you don’t care to share any actual support and just do name calling, then I will keep name calling to myself.

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    • Waylon4ever, what do you think of this? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EtguEp1E7E0

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      • I don’t follow? Is this related to something in this discussion?

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        • My singing sounds similar to Jamey Johnson, and since your into his music, I’d respect your criticisms of my song.

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  • It’s not that different from Midnight I think it’s got soul But to each his own i can’t put you down for your take on it but i will say this you had some pre conceived notions that set you off i think but i don’t remeber JTE saying he had a problem with drinking i could be wrong though i think it was drugs that he mentioned but has far as the wardrobe goes JTE said he wanted to be different then all the dudes in flannel and leather vest but the liuve performances are way better and you can’t put the dude down for the faces he makes and somebody said it was about marketing but forgive the dude he’s got to eat and pay rent to

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  • It’s the equivalent of a picture with soft focus.

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  • @ Dave The Webmaster, I think that’s the perfect way of putting it. It’s a solid album, but I it became background music. Nothing made me stop and say, “Wow”.

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  • His twitter feed says that last night he was in jail. Anyone know anything about that? I hope he’s ok.

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  • Jamie,

    “Go read a little bio.”
    “Get the facts straight”

    These are shots. I got my big boy pants on and I can take them, but I’m gonna shoot back as well. Doesn’t mean anyone’s an asshole. There’s 60+ comments on this article alone. I roll fast and people are expected to bring a thick skin.

    I’ll give you the point on the shoes. My apologies. Though I stand behind the statement that his wardrobe has gone through a dramatic shift that has also coincided with a shift in his music.

    I’m glad you and everyone is reading, but I don’t ask for anyone’s approval. I speak my mind genuinely, even if it gets me in trouble and makes me lose readers. I also LOVE when people disagree with me because it keeps me honest and on my toes and thinking ,ESP when it is a fan defending an artist they love. We can disagree, but there’s always respect, at least on my end, even if it doesn’t seem that way.

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  • I’m curious about this “fashion maven girlfriend” who you attribute for his change in style. How do you know she is to “blame” for his change in clothing. Even still, big woop – why can’t a guy change the way he dresses. He has gotten older and has started to make some money. If the guy wants to spruce up his clothing, who cares. He is a stage performer, why not have a stage presence?

    The guy’s home base is in NYC…of course he is going to have a pretty and stylish girl. It’s his deal, are you jealous or something?

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    • Haha! Yes! The jealousy accusation! The most frequently called upon, worn out, and misguided of all accusations used to counter a negative (or in this case, mixed) review.

      Trust me darlin’ I am not jealous of Justin Townes Earle right about now, and I’d rather have a bullet in my face than a fashion maven girlfriend or digs in NYC.

      I’ve said this half a dozen times by now but yes, Justin should wear whatever he wants on stage, and he should take into consideration his appearance as a performer. (Gosh I feel like a broken record). I was merely mentioning his getup as one of many examples that Justin Townes Earle had gone through a sea change, citing his dress along with many other factors (his sobriety too, which also was questioned by supporters. Wonder where those folks are now.) as evidence.

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  • Maybe I’m an idiot.

    I’ve listened thoroughly to JTE since Yuma… When his new albums come out, they’re literally all I listen to for about 3 months straight. So I feel really confused when I read about the homogenization of roots music and all the NPR catering talk…

    JTE has made a great record on all accounts. Production – top notch. Songwriting – top notch. Musicianship – definitely top notch (note the tracks that feature both electric AND upright bass – that shit’s hard to do.) I’m a fan of lists, so here we go…

    1.) I understand that you want to like this record. You mentioned that I doesn’t have any soul. How do tracks like “Christchurch Woman”, “Learning to Cry”, & “Move Over Mama” not have soul? That idea is lost on me…

    2.) I don’t know what difference it makes whether he wears Marc Jacobs or Levi Strauss… Fashion is fashion & whether it coincides with his music doesn’t really matter, does it?

    3.) I saw somewhere else (and commented) where you said that after this album, it’s hard to even think of him as country. I think my jaw dropped so hard that it dislocated… Whaaat? If we’re grouping this album and this artist into the “neo-traditionalist” genre (in terms of country/roots music), then this album is brilliant. Neo-traditionalism is exactly that, “new traditionalism”. Take “Working For The MTA”… A reconstruction of the classic format of “train song” adapted for modernity – the subway. Or mentioning “satellite radio”… What’s wrong with that? How is that not, by definition, “new traditionalism”…?

    Like I said, I know you said you want to like this record… And I think you would if you’d put this record in the right context. Every album by an artist is a snapshot of a few months of their life. View it in that context, and this album is one that is layered, understated, modern, & intelligent by a man going through some apparently difficult personal trials. View it in the context of “The Good Life” or “Midnight At The Movies” and it’s really nothing that special, I guess. But if that’s the only way people are going to frame your work, what’s the point of making a new record?

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    • I just have to say how much I agree with every point made by Chris. He’s nailed it. I was also knocked off my chair by the “satellite radio” observation and that JTE could barely be described as “country.” If you’re going to try and pigeon hole things then you’ll always be disappointed.

      While HRB may not have the instant arresting swagger of the Good Life it is still full of beautifully crafted songs crying out to be listened to. It’s a real shame to see the record written off in some quarters within days of it’s release – that cannot be giving it justice. (I’m English – You should try David Bowie’s “Heroes” – now that’s a challenge, nonetheless quite brilliant) Go for a night time drive with HRB on your stereo and I guarantee you’ll fall in love with the songs.

      My own voracious appetite for all things JTE via youtube etc may have diluted the surprise of a new album but this has been balanced by the thrill of hearing the finished results knocked into shape. I’d have to agree with Chris over the “context “of this album – it’s only his 3rd and that’s in 2 years(?) You have to respect a guy as prolific as that, who lives for his music giving treverential respect to his forbears and plays 250 shows a year. (Maybe the “Indy shirt thrower” should have done his homework before screwing up the show)

      I would also suggest that departure of the very wonderful Cory has reshaped his sound. The new set up doesn’t automatically lend itself to those glorious watertight uptempo numbers that hooked me in. However he’s spent time alone & sharing the bill with others like Isbell and Pug and think that shows.

      The only complaint I have about the the new record is that it’s just not long enough.

      And if you’re missing the toe tappers – get the Dawn Landes duet and his version of Birmingham Jail – should keep you going till album no.4.

      Get well Justin, I’ve got tickets for the show.

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  • Hello Kyle – apologies for the typo – I meant “reverential”- thanks to JTE I now know Mance Lipscombe, Buck Owens, Henry Thomas, Doc Watson etc.

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  • [...] that mean that I have changed my mixed feelings about Harlem River Blues? No, in fact it has strengthened them. And strengthened the feeling of horror I felt when I saw him [...]

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  • I’m really shocked by this review. I class my standards as high but after repeated listens, I think this is a great album and I’ve told JTE this to his face. Each to their own, I suppose.

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