Album Review: Justin Townes Earle – “The Good Life”
Justin Townes Earle has given us an interesting, compelling album that sways and strides like a young, charming wino; The Good Life contains moments of picturesque reflection, moments of intense focus, and moments of grinning exuberance–all of which are informed and intensified by the sense of candor that accompanies that fourth glass of wine on a Tuesday night. It’s a damn fine record.
What does it sound like? It sounds kind of crazy actually. It’s influences are all over the place, yet it’s sound is still consistent. I don’t know what Justin Townes’ music collection looks like, but this record seems like what happens when a kid has digital access to vast catalogs of old-time music and classic honky-tonk, but who still grew up with exposure to Hip-Hop and Garth Brooks.
Garth Brooks, by the way, is the last person I thought I’d be referencing in this review (for all you keeping score, Steve Earle was the first), but at times Justin Townes Earle sings a lot like Garth Brooks. I was surprised too, but tracks like “Turn Out My Lights,” “Far Away in Another Town,” and “Who Am I To Say” find Earle utilizing the same warm, understated baritone and the same intent, yet lilting phrasing that Garth used on tunes like “The River” and “To Make You Feel My Love.” It was effective when Garth used it, and it’s effective here. Furthermore, if this sort of vocal style is how Garth is to be assimilated into serious country/roots music, then we can all breathe a sigh of relief; after all, up until now it’s been all pyrotechnics and adulation for lame corporate rock.
Aside from Garth, the other artists who loom over this record as influences seem to be Old Crow Medicine Show and Ray Price, the former on tracks such as “Hard Living” and “South Georgia Sugar Babe”, the latter on “The Good Life” and “What Do You Do When You’re Lonesome.”
And the whole record sounds really good. It’s warm, organic, and surprisingly coherent, despite its disparate influences. The honky-tonk is mellowed a bit and the old-timey songs don’t have that apparitional quality of those actual old-timey recordings; it’s all accessible, and without being compromised. The album is weighty, life is happening in these songs, but the gauntlet isn’t being thrown down. Earle isn’t jarring you from your evening with your significant other, or time spent telling tales with your pals, but he is lending musical richness to the experience.
All and all, I feel like we get a good glimpse of who Justin Townes Earle is as an artist, but that the full picture is waiting for us somewhere in the future; which isn’t horrible, as it still leaves us something to look forward to. Earle flaunts plenty of strengths and abilities on this record though–a strong understanding of the rhythm of language, a strong voice that is conventionally pretty, and a talent with melody–and I wouldn’t want to leave you with the impression that all the good is left to come.
The Good Life not only proves that Justin Townes Earle is deserving of any advantage that his name has given him, but it also sets him at the head of the pack for twenty-somethings who are concerned with making new and important music in the Country Music tradition.
- Janice Brooks: Hopes somebody gets those memos about drinking songs. Meanwhile I'm feeling a lot of slots with Bluegrass.
- Leeann: Great news about Ricky Skaggs and Sharon White's duet album! Absolutely appalling about the Keith Urban concert!! Both the rape and …
- bob: I found the Billboard article about country music radio needing an alcohol intervention interesting. Songwriter Adam Wright is quoted as …
- Matt: Definitely agree with C.M. about Maddie & Tae. Certainly not the tidal wave of change some claimed it is or …
- Dave D.: Good stuff, as always. My copy of Producing Country arrived yesterday, and it looks to be as good as …
- Scooter: I agree Holly Williams can do no wrong in my eyes. Such a good album and great to see live …
- Carrie Mclaughlin: Your my Hero Mr. Jim Lauderdale!!! Come to Alaska Please? hehehehe
- Jeremy Dylan: You should check it out Dave D. It's from the first (and strongest) season.
- Leeann: Wow! I love that Holly William's cover of "No Surrender"! She's gotten to be so good.
- luckyoldsun: I made it through a minute of that "Girl In a Country Song Video." Man, that sucks.