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Justin Townes Earle settles into sobriety, marriage, and roots-rock orthodoxy on Kids in the Street

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Justin Townes Earle wrote his new album, Kids in the Street (New West), in the wake of a sustained period of stability and happiness thanks to a new marriage and several years of sobriety. Luckily the songs aren’t about kittens and high-fives—the main conceit of opener “Champagne Corolla” is to celebrate a woman who’s cool and confident enough to drive the titular automobile though “she should be driving something long and black.” Other tunes flirt half-heartedly with bad or impulsive behavior, like the strummy “Maybe a Moment,” which features a protagonist imploring someone to show some spontaneity and take a road trip to Memphis. The title track makes anodyne, nostalgic observations about the Nashville neighborhood of Earle’s youth, in which the place where “old men played dominoes on hot summer days” has been whitewashed by “cut and paste” gentrification. The most profound song on the album might be “Trouble Is,” which chips away at the veneer of getting straight, asserting essentially that once a fuckup, always a fuckup (the track closes with the forlorn line, “Only trouble is . . . same old shit inside”). Musically, the record bounces between the usual folk rock, horn-stoked blues, and twang, with the exception of a surprising excursion into Crescent City R&B—“15-25” sounds like a Professor Longhair tribute. Earle seems to be settling into tradition rather than fighting against it, as he’s occasionally done in the past. Producer Mike Mogis deserves some credit for adding roots flavor with a cast of Omaha regulars, the exception being Earle’s guitarist sidekick Paul Niehaus, who’ll join openers the Sadies as the singer’s backing band tonight.   v

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