Justin Townes Earle had a lot riding on his sophomore release, Midnight at the Movies. As if being Steve Earle’s son and Townes Van Zandt’s namesake wasn’t pressure enough, the younger Earle set the bar phenomenally high with his 2008 effort, The Good Life. But, less than a year later, he’s cranked out another humdinger of an album, helping cement his name in the annals of American roots music.
Drawing on diverse influences, Earle maintains a steady ethos while seamlessly encompassing myriad styles, including pre-war folk, country, indie pop and bluegrass. The results are provocative and eminently listenable. “They Killed John Henry” is an unabashed nod to straight-up Americana, while others, like “Black Eyed Suzy” (about a down-and-out streetwalker), borrow classic nomenclature but offer a 21st-century story. And “Halfway to Jackson,” replete with trains and no-good women, is destined to become a classic.
Earle could easily ride his father’s coattails, but his desire for independent success is clear. In “Mama’s Eyes,” he brandishes the line, “I am my father’s son…We don’t see eye to eye/I’ll be the first to admit I never tried.” With that defiant spirit and musical savvy, Earle’s making a name for himself all on his own.