Midnight at the Movies
Justin Townes Earle has just released his new record, “Midnight at the Movies”, after much anticipation from fans of his first record, “Good Life”. His first album won him recognition from hipsters, metal fans and country music acolytes both young and old, and just about anybody else who heard it. He had a beat up boot in the door, courtesy of his father, Steve Earle. The truth is, he didn’t need it. “Good Life” was full of licks that would have made Hank Sr. proud, and his songwriting was full of both autobiographical confession and sad tales about sad people from just about anywhere.
The title track and album opener from his newest CD is not entirely a new direction for the young Earle, but more of a lateral move that delves into new territory. Purists need not be alarmed, as the rest of the album is still full of twang, albeit more controlled than the last record. He stretches out on more personal songs like “What I Mean To You” and especially “Mama’s Eyes”, which reveals demons and legacy when Justin declares, “I’m my father’s son”.
The troubadour really shines on the roots laden “ They Killed John Henry” and details the collapse of a working girl with “Black Eyed Suzie”. Justin’s best work usually involves the downtrodden characters that live on the periphery of any town, small or large, and tells their story in a Southern gothic style that might have depressed Steinbeck or Faulkner. His love of Nashville is served with the masterfully played “Poor Fool”. This song would have sounded great on a record player in Ernest Tubbs’ shop decades ago. “Halfway to Jackson” touches on the never forgotten theme of cold-hearted women and the men they leave in their wake. Maybe Townes has broken the spell, even asking, “With all them other men, what do you need with me”?
Justin Townes Earle seems to have pulled off the trick of avoiding the sophomore slump and also growing as an artist and songwriter. This record would sound at home on a dusty turntable, or in the case of “They Killed John Henry”, in the pew in a humid church with open windows and a perspiring preacher who needs desperately for everybody to make it to heaven. I think it might be another brick in a musical foundation that fans will listen to for years to come.