First of all, let us congratulate Justin Townes Earle for being one of the first songwriters to celebrate the humble but reliable Toyota in song. Sure, the Cadillac may have a more noble musical legacy, but in "Champagne Corolla," on 2017's Kids in the Street, Earle is eager to explain why the car (and especially the woman driving it) is worth a second glance. Second, let's note that "Champagne Corolla" is one of the very best rockers Earle has offered to date; the singer/songwriter is traditionally more comfortable with a subtle attack in the studio, but here he opens the album with a stompin' exercise in New Orleans-influenced R&B, and it connects solidly. As it turns out, rockers are in the minority on Kids in the Street, but "Short Haired Woman" and "15-25" show he can cut the same sort of groove when he feels like it, and Paul Niehaus' guitar and Scott Seiver's drumming do wonders to make these songs move. On much of the rest of Kids in the Street, Earle is in more subdued form, with a lower volume and more careful tempi, but this material truly confirms that he just keeps growing and improving as a songwriter. "Same Old Stagolee" is a smart and absorbing rewrite of the old folk tale, the title track artfully balances nostalgia and regret, and "Faded Valentine" and "There Go a Fool" are marvelous sketches of love and lovers gone wrong, Earle's favorite theme. As a vocalist, Earle is short on histrionics but he knows how to make his lyrics communicate, and he sounds as good as ever on these sessions, carefully shaping these tales with smart, subtle phrasing. Kids in the Street doesn't sound or feel like a masterpiece, but it does suggest Earle was aiming higher than expected for this album, and he hit the target -- this is among his very best work to date.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming