On this his third album, Justin Townes Earle is determined to shoo away any lingering apple-doesn't-fall-far-from-tree comparisons. Not that he played the dad card on the first two, but any fresh face with a familiar surname is obliged to dodge that obstacle, and with each new release, Earle has carved out his own corner just a bit more.
His DNA ensures that the Americana Music Awards' "Emerging Artist of the Year" for 2009 will probably wind up in the country country regardless, but the stylistic hopscotch on Harlem River Blues — he flits easily from real-deal rockabilly to soulful power-balladry to roadhouse-ready honky-tonk — points to a restlessness that serves him well. If Earle has borrowed anything from the old man (that would be Steve), it's a tendency to keep it real.
Several tracks feel born of experience — not so much of living hard but of living fully, or at least observing keenly. "Working for the MTA" may suggest a lost Woody Guthrie tune, or a Springsteen Nebraska outtake, but it speaks to contemporary concerns, not to the union crowd of yore. "Learning To Cry" and "Slippin' and Slidin' " (most assuredly not the Little Richard tune) are confessionals from a guy who's learned the hard way, and "One More Night in Brooklyn" addresses not so much wanderlust as the burning need to find a comfort zone.