Justin Townes Earle
Kids in the Street (New West)
Being Steve Earle’s son and Townes Van Zandt’s namesake unfairly provokes expectations of preternatural songwriting gifts. Happily, on Kids in the Street, oft-troubled Justin Townes Earle lives up to his lineage. It kicks off with the Stones-y stomp of “Champagne Corolla”—the band sounds great, horns nestling in the mix. Earle works well with a limited vocal range, and if his weary voice isn’t totally apt for the New Orleans boogie of “15-25” or the wry humor of “What’s Goin’ Wrong,” it works for the steel-guitar lilt of “What She’s Crying For” and the childhood-requiem title track. Recovery suits Earle well—long may he run.
Teenage Emotions (Capitol)
Ne-Yo, Big K.R.I.T. and now Lil Yachty: What’s in the water in Mableton, Georgia? Yachty calls his style “bubblegum trap,” the oxymoronical sense of which comes to light in casually obscene lyrics and melody-void songs like “Peek-a-Boo,” which gets stuck in a played-out dactylic ratatat until more rhythmically-ranging verses by Migos’ Quavo and Takeoff. Things get brighter on “Harley”—it’s not as sunny as “Broccoli” (the buoyant D.R.A.M./Yachty collaboration that YG invokes during his guest verse), but it’s cut from the same cloth, with a singable chorus and floating Casiotone line. Everything comes together on the beach jam “Better.” It’s lyrically clean, with colors blasting in on Stefflon Don’s verse, and it could be the hit of the summer.
Love is Love (Woodsist)
Woods used to be a pleasant preppy tripster band, and used to make better records than this EP. The insubstantial songs and wimpy singing are irksome, but they pale next to an inexplicable plague of funkless brass, starting with the lead-off title track. And the 10-minute “Spring is in the Air”—which still qualifies as the dank centerpiece of Love is Love—is all drony feedback and creeping Rhodes until the pointless, facile horns intrude. The song eventually spins out of energy like a hurricane over cold water.
City Music (Dead Oceans)
Meantime, former Woods bassist Kevin Morby is back with his fourth solo record, the self-consciously downbeat City Music. Not that everything’s slow, although plenty is. But the Ramones/Jim Carroll homage “1234” is a suitably perky rocker, and “Aboard My Train” builds steam while Morby affects a Dylanesque chant. “Dry Your Eyes” is sort of a monotonous downer until Meg Baird comes to the rescue with a soulful restrained backing vocal and a guitar line that intertwines with Morby’s own in what turns out to be the emotional height of the record. Morby also covers the Germs’ “Caught in My Eye,” but it sounds less like punk than millennial growin’-up music.
On Pollinator, Debbie Harry sounds more engaged than her detached persona of yore. Her voice also sounds quite altered; the studio magic of A-list producer John Congleton apparently has limits. Congleton also makes Blondie sound modern, which is a bad thing, as Pollinator is cluttered and fatiguing, especially on the epic, exhausting closer “Fragments.” New songs by Harry and guitarist Chris Stein sound classic—indeed, they crib their own hits: “Dreaming” resurfaces on “Doom or Destiny,” “Heart of Glass” on “Long Time.” Newish keyboardist Matt Katz-Bohen contributes a couple songs, including “Already Naked,” which would actually sound pretty good at the roller rink. Pollinator also features collaborations with TVOTR’s Dave Sitek, Charli XCX, Johnny Marr and Sia, with uniformly dispiriting results.