An unexpected forerunner in a genre in peril Moments before I first saw Justin Townes Earle, my buddy tells me this guy is "the future of punk rock." Naturally, only first hearing of the man that night, I was reluctant. That is, until Earle and right-hand man Cory Younts took to the old theater stage, playing stripped-down, bluesy country-folk songs—songs, and that's it. No fancy production, no "oohs and ahhs," no distractions.
"I am my father's son/ I've never known when to shut up/I ain't foolin' no one/I am my father's son. " These words lead off the fourth song on Justin Townes Earle's second album, Midnight at the Movies, and given that many people still know him as the son of iconic singer/songwriter Steve Earle, it's a brave and startling statement. But at the same time, much like his 2008 debut The Good Life, Earle's second album works because he seems determined not be his father's son; the tone and the feel of this music owes precious little to the family line, and Earle sounds appreciably more relaxed, confident, and in control here than he did on his fine debut.
Justin Townes Earle has a whole lot to live up to, and this time it isn’t just his two famous names. In 2008, his first full-length release, The Good Life, was featured on several critics’ year-end lists and cemented Earle’s role as one of Americana’s best up-and-coming young artists. In the face of numerous accolades, it wouldn’t have been surprising had Earle chosen to rest on his laurels for a while.
It's hard not to benchmark Justin Townes Earle by his name. Neither a maverick like his father, Steve, nor a transcendentalist like his namesake, Austin's late Townes Van Zandt, Earle is rather something of a classicist. Midnight at the Movies, like 2008's The Good Life, consists largely of old-school country variants rendered with skill and taste, such as "They Killed John Henry," an original folker easy to mistake for a traditional.