Album Review: Justin Townes Earle – “The Good Life”

Ben Cisneros | April 1st, 2008

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.

4 Stars

1 Ping

  1. [...] Justin Townes Earle - The Good Life 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. - Ben Cisneros [...]
  1. Kelly
    April 1, 2008 at 8:00 am

    Great post Ben. I have been eyeing this release for a while and I spotted it on e-music this morning, so I will likely grab it up thanks to your piece.

  2. Brody Vercher
    April 1, 2008 at 8:09 am

    I thought all the talk about being influenced by traditional country was going to turn out to be just lip service and I’d end up hating it, but it’s a badass album. A truly pleasant surprise for me.

  3. Brady Vercher
    April 1, 2008 at 8:10 am

    Kelly, go for it. I’m not a fan of Steve Earle and didn’t know what to expect for this album, but it doesn’t sound anything like Steve Earle (I know you like Steve). It’s a surprisingly good listen and I think it’s wholly deserving of at least the four stars Ben gave it.

  4. Kelly
    April 1, 2008 at 8:20 am

    Done, it’s downloading as we type….thanks bruthas from anutha mutha…

  5. Leeann
    April 1, 2008 at 8:26 am

    Yeah, this sounds much different than Steve Earle. I figured it would though, since he’s trying to establish himself on his own merits, I expect. I’m amazed at how mature his voice sounds, just from the amazon clips I listened to. I haven’t decided if I’ll buy it yet, but this review is quite motivating!

  6. ccf
    April 1, 2008 at 8:32 am

    The cd is on emusic so I got it has some of my downloads for the month. It will make my top 10 list.

  7. Brody Vercher
    April 1, 2008 at 8:33 am

    Check out his MySpace, Leeann. The first three songs are from his album.

    http://www.myspace.com/justintownesearle

  8. ccf
    April 1, 2008 at 8:37 am

    Also if your a Kathy Mattea fan her new cd Coal is on emusic along with 2 tracks that aren’t available anywhere else.

  9. Leeann
    April 1, 2008 at 8:38 am

    Thanks, Brody. Will do. I know that I already love the traditional sound of it.

  10. roger
    April 1, 2008 at 9:44 am

    Spot on review again…what a pleasant surprise of a record. The lead story in the Nashville Scene this week is about Justin and his struggles with addiction (in Earle family tradition) and talks about how he got to wear he is….worth the read

    http://www.nashvillescene.com/

    i downloaded off itunes on friday night and have been listening steady since…Definitely worthy of the review!

  11. Rachel Scoma
    April 1, 2008 at 10:14 am

    Though Justin Townes Earle has a pretty amazing story for one so young, coming back from a hefty addition to drugs, I am glad that this was not even mentioned in Ben’s article. Often a musician’s life and struggles become the focal point of their story, their marketing, and though it is important often for their ethos, in this case, the music speaks for itself. The music is not compelling because it comes from a young man who battle crack-addiction, it is compelling because it is sincere, open and well-written.

  12. Laurie
    April 1, 2008 at 12:14 pm

    Loved this review and yes it IS spot on. I highly recommend seeing Justin’s live show too. The songs sound just as great, you get to watch him do some incredible things on the guitar..AND he tells good stories too. It was one of the best live show experiences I’ve ever had.

  13. Hollerin' Ben
    April 1, 2008 at 1:07 pm

    Thanks for the positive feedback on the review guys.

    It’s good to hear that Justin is a strong live performer. I missed him out here in L.A. this month, but I’ll make sure to catch him on his next trip around.

  14. Baron Lane
    April 1, 2008 at 1:57 pm

    Couldn’t agree more. Fine genes for music, if not so for earthly temptations.

  15. Mike Parker
    April 20, 2008 at 1:31 pm

    Haven’t had a chance to sit and listen, but I did put it on in the background today, and it just feels good; nice, comfortable, traditional melodies. I used to be the biggest Steve Earle fan you’d want to run into, but his politics have ruined him for me. I feel like I’m turning on Air America when I’m listening to him.

    But I digress. So far I like Justin’s sound. He sounds a lot like his dad’s early stuff. “Far Away in Another Town” sounds like it would have been at home on Exit 0 or Guitar Town.

  16. leeann
    July 7, 2008 at 7:42 am

    I was reminded of this review from a comment that was left at country universe. So, I finally bought the album last night and I absolutely love it. Thanks for a great review that very accurately describes this album.

  17. Hollerin' Ben
    July 7, 2008 at 12:36 pm

    thanks Leeann!

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