I’m sure life isn’t easy when you are the son of someone famous and you go into the same field. The expectations can’t be fair and many people fold and disappear under that unique kind of pressure. Justin Townes Earle had moments where it looked like he would be the sort to fade away into nothing, whether it was due to comparisons to his father or the demons that pursued him chemically, he danced precariously on the tightrope and fortunately emerged stronger on the other side.
Released this May on New West Records, The Saint of Lost Causes is one of those records that doesn’t politely request your attention so much as it pounds its fist on the table and demands it. Playing loosely with the sometimes narrow confines of folk, blues and country, it is as fine a moment, musically, as you can ever hope for. The twelve songs written solely by Earle shift effortlessly between one style to the next yet each seems comfortable in its own skin. The album is joy to listen to for the songs as much as the players assembled for the project – Adam Bednarik co-produced and played bass, with Joe V. McMahan and Paul Niehaus on all sorts of guitars rounded out with Jon Radford on drums and Cory Younts on harmonica, keys and backing vocals.
The lead off title track sets the tone for the collection. A stumble down the steps drum beat, and guitar sound imagined out of a film noir paired up with Earle’s straight forward vocal delivery left me hair standing on end. “Ain’t Got No Money” has a choogling jump blues feel and Younts harmonica playing finds itself right at home. Certainly not derivative in any sense but I keep hearing shades of James McMurtry’s classic “Choctaw Bingo” in the vocals and that is not necessarily a bad thing. “Mornings in Memphis” continues the albums hot streak, jumping styles, almost laughing at the listener as it throws out genre after genre as casually as can be. The mournful steel courtesy of Justin Niehaus vies for attention with McMahan’s electric stylings throughout the track. “Frightened by The Sound” has a dreamy California feel and I absolutely love Earle’s vocals on this track. There is a depth and thickness to his voice that harkens back to a 70s Van Morrison without sounding like a copy. This is my favorite song on the album and I find myself listening and relistening to it over and over again. “Flint City Shake It” is a great rockabilly love letter to the city that won’t die will leave a smile on your face. I love how the band amps it up to 11 and I can’t wait to catch this song in concert. “Over Alameda” brings in the steel guitar to great effect with Radford’s expertly timed beats pushing the song along. I love the point of view Earle writes this from, the track grabs you with its subtlety and draws you in.
Not sure it was intentional or not but Justin Townes Earle has delivered one of those career defining moments writers are so fond of proclaiming. While not necessarily obscured by his father’s work, he has definitely been shaded by its shadow. With The Saint of Lost Causes I think he steps out of it completely and heralds his own moment entirely. An “everyman’s” look at the world in which we live without a nod and a wink to the audience, the album transcends the moment with a universal statement. A work of this caliber is rare and I hope it is a sound and promise of what we can expect from Earle going forward. https://www.justintownesearle.com
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