Album: Absent Father
Artist: Justin Townes Earle
About: 10 songs, 32 minutes
Who’s Choice: Deliberate Obfuscation
Justin Townes Earle claims that his album, Absent Fathers is not solely directed at his own father, Steve Earle. In an interview with Esquire magazine, he claims “I’ve yet to use just one single person or situation as a basis for my music. It’s always a composite.” I don’t necessarily buy that. This feels to be a totally personal album filled with heartbreak and working on hope. It is quiet and spare and his heart is exposed for everyone to see. The mom in me wants to just to give him a hug and tell him it will be okay (but that would be an incredibly awkward hug since he is about 6’6” and I can’t even claim 5’2”).
We saw Justin perform live a few years ago when he opened for Jason Isbell at Knuckleheads. That began my love affair with Jason, and even though my attachment to Justin hasn’t been as strong, since then I have very much enjoyed what he creates.
Absent Fathers is companion to Justin’s Single Mothers, which was released last year. Like that one, despite some really poignant subject matter, this album is really easy to listen to. Justin has a honky-tonk country kind of drawl that fits beautifully with the way he has produced this album. It is really reserved, personal, and thematic – as if he and a couple friends just sat in a circle playing their instruments and kicked this one out. By the sounds of it, that is pretty much what they did.
I have to say, if you are pressed for time, you should click away to Dan’s posting about this album. He has written a stunningly beautiful review that I can’t come close to, even though we both love this album.
The songs on the album are probably some of the shortest that we have come across in our listens. There are 10 songs and the whole album is only 32 minutes long. Five of them are two and a half minutes or less. He gets in, tells his story and gets out.
A song like Round the Bend has an upbeat boogie woogie tempo, but within it are killer lines lines like. You know it’s hard to explain/ There’s things a man’s gotta learn to contain/ Sweet now it just ain’t the same/And you’re momma’s only boy/your daddy’s only shame. Ouch – tell me that isn’t personal.
It is not just dad issues that he is dealing with here. There is also alot about his love life. When The One You Love Loses Faith in You is a beautiful slow dance, but the content is anything but lovey dovey. He gives you lyrics like: Oh then you start to see the doubt/When she covers her mouth to tell a lie/She covers her mouth but she don’t cover her eyes/ Oh and that’s where you’ll see the doubt. It really is some great imagery that he can pull into these songs.
There is a nice variety of styles and tempos on this album, and the use of the pedal steel guitar is brilliance! That unique twangy sound is perfect for the theme that runs through this album. I gotta think that seeing the album performed live, it would be hard to keep your eyes off of that unique instrument being played.
Dan will cringe when I say this, but Justin Townes Earle does Americana as well as anyone, and I think Absent Fathers is a great first 2015 release for us to listen to.
Next Up: Kelley Hunt’s The Beautiful Bones