As we've learned over the past 20 years or so, records made by the kids of famous musicians are always a crapshoot. On the one hand, we have those who could never live up to their legendary parents' achievements, e.g. Julian Lennon, Dweezil Zappa, Jakob Dylan, and uh, Lisa Marie Presley. On the other hand, those from lesser-known artists seem to be able to carve out their own identity away from that of their folks, as Jeff Buckley, Rufus and Martha Wainwright, and Teddy Thompson have proven. File Justin Townes Earle — offspring of Steve — in that latter category.
At a mere 25, Justin Townes Earle already has the distinction of being fired from his old man's touring band for — somewhat ironically — substance abuse. Now clean and sober, Earle has emerged intact with this debut disc, The Good Life, although the album isn't quite the bed of roses its title might suggest.
First off, anyone looking for père Earle's brand of politically charged Americana won't find it here. The younger Earle has turned in an old-fashioned country album that sounds like he's influenced more by Hank Williams than by Dad. Still, songs like "Hard Livin'," "Ain't Glad I'm Leaving," and the title track are a million miles away from what passes as commercial "country" music these days, to the younger Earle's credit.
Thematically, there's a real "tear in your beer" vibe to the whole thing. Love lost and its subsequent loneliness run throughout the record, which seem in stark contrast to the artist's youth. Like his father, Justin Townes (the name comes from Steve's mentor Townes Van Zant) Earle proves to be a gifted storyteller. And there are slight hints of vocal similarities between father and son, particularly on closing track "Far Away in Another Town."
In an era in which CDs are stuffed to the gills with extraneous nonsense, it's refreshing to note that The Good Life clocks in at a lean-and-mean half hour. Definitely an artist to watch in 2008 and beyond.
Mike Villano writes about music for Metro Times. Send commentst to firstname.lastname@example.org.