Monday, March 16, 2009

Justin Townes Earle - Midnight At The Movies

If there's anyone this side of Hank III that is growing up in a bigger shadow of their family, it's probably Justin Townes Earle. If you haven't done the math, JTE is one of the sons of Steve Earle, a man who is pretty definitively this generation's Johnny Cash.  

To be frank, Steve's had a lot of wives, and most certainly wasn't around much for Justin's formative years. JTE has been pretty candid about the large numbers of Nashville kids he grew up with that had single mothers and wanted for a father figure in their lives. These kids, Justin included, shied away from the music industry as a result, but the younger Earle was soon playing bitten by the music bug and finger-picking up a storm. He came up in old-time combo The Swindlers and eventually played in a gang of rock bands to boot. 

His increasingly formidable chops garnered him a gig touring with his Dad, but he managed to lose it in pretty short order due to substance abuse issues. I trust that all parties involved were aware of the ironies therein, but Justin has remained on the straight and narrow, releasing a his debut full-length The Good Life and EP Yuma last year to much adulation and acclaim. Midnight At The Movies is his second full-length for Bloodshot. I haven't been all that crazy about the newer acquistions to the Bloodshot roster, but I can't say enough good things about this record.

Earle is smart enough to know that comparisons with his father are inevitable, but he is hardly a clone of his old man. His fingerpicking and arpeggiation are obviously influenced by his Dad, as are songs like Someday I'll Be Forgiven For This, but the songs on Midnight At The Movies assert JTE as his own man. Walk Out is a good example, with rollicking harmonica and swaggering vocals that should get young and old out on the floor and two-stepping. Lest you think that JTE is trapped in a slavish old-school mentality, the bluegrass inflected Replacements cover of Can't Hardly Wait reminds us of his past in his old Nashville rock band The Swindlers and shows us he's got a broad base of influences that favor Paul Westerberg and Jackson Browne as it does his namesakes and Lightnin' Hopkins. Midnight At The Movies is definitely a record that has one boot in the past and another firmly up the ass of the future.  

Justin Townes Earle is the real deal, a hell of a player and singer who has managed to prosper despite having not one, but two, albatrosses hanging conspicuously around his neck. He gets better with every show and every album. Midnight At The Movies is his best record yet, but listening to the songs here, it's very obvious that we'll be seeing the young Mr. Earle doing very big things in the very near future. Justin Townes Earle can be found on the Interwebs via this link. See him in the small rooms while you still can, and pick up a copy of Midnight At The Movies immediately here from the good folk of Bloodshot. Support independent roots music!


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