Album of the Week: Justin Townes Earle, 'The Saint of Lost Causes'

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Justin Townes Earle
The 12-song set was co-produced by Earle and his longtime engineer Adam Bednarik and was recorded at Sound Emporium in Nashville. (New West Records)
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Justin Townes Earle is an interesting case study. Even his name sounds like he's a songwriter. He has it in his middle and last name. It seems like having legendary songwriter Steve Earle as your father and being named after Townes Van Zandt would be a challenge, especially if you are an aspiring songwriter. It's never really slowed him down.

Earle isn't aspiring these days. He is a bonafide singer and songwriter. He has recorded nine albums in a little more than a dozen years. That's a pretty steady clip nowadays. His songs have always been kind of no holds barred. Touching on subjects like his complicated relationship with his father, suicide, drug addiction and his troubled teen years.

Justin Townes Earle touches on many of those subjects, but he casts a wider net on The Saint of Lost Causes. Maybe being a father to a young daughter influenced his songwriting. He shows genuine concern about the tainted water supply in Flint, Michigan on the song on the bluesy "Don't Drink the Water," where he sounds like an aging bluesman on both impassioned vocal and his old-school guitar style. He touches on Flint again on the rollicking "Flint City Shake It," which sounds like it was inspired by Michael Moore's film "Roger and Me." He shows he's well versed in Texas swing on this one.

Not all the songs swing on the album. The first tune and title track is eerie and atmospheric. You can feel his ache as he sings, "It's a cruel world / It ain't hard to understand / You got your sheep / You got your shepherd / You got your wolves amongst men."

"Appalachian Nightmare" tells quite a story, likely fiction with maybe a bit of his own life mixed as Earle spews, "Wish I could've been better to my mama / And wish I'd never took a shot of dope." This one could almost work as a screenplay.

The Saint of Lost Causes bounces around genres with ease. Mixing aforementioned Texas swing, blues, folk with just the right amount of twang from Calexico's Paul Niehaus on electric and steel guitar. Earle shows his own guitar prowess on "Ain't Got No Money." You can tell he listened to his share of Mance Lipscomb or Mississippi John Hurt records.

The Saint of Lost Causes is Justin Townes Earle's survey of America, warts and all. It simply a really good record. I can't wait to hear what Mr. Earle does next!

Watch Justin Townes Earle perform songs from The Saint of Lost Causes at The Current Day Party in Austin, Texas

Resources


Justin Townes Earle - Official Site

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