You can dive deep, way deep, in your understanding of this album, and others have done so. If you're a miner for meaning, stake your claim in this album and get to work. The son of Steve Earle, named after his godfather Townes van Zandt, abandoned by his father as a toddler, drug addict son of a drug addict, kicked out of his father's band, now happily married and apparently turning his life around - well, step up to the white board and start diagramming the levels of depth here.
Robin does a bit of that analysis over at Deliberate Obfuscation, where she scoffs at Justin's claim that this album is not aimed at his father. She's right, of course, though she, too, is hooked by the outstanding musicianship on the album.
I know it's all there, but something about this album is too damned good for me to want to dissect it. From the opening thud to the closing high note, I just want to revel in the sound of this amazing album. The bass, the snare drum, the guitars and that yowling voice of Justin's. That's what he asks of us in the opening track:
So if you have any heartOn the other hand, I'll acknowledge that those who want to delve deep into the meaning are served a juicy morsel in the following line:
If you've any heart at all,
Then you just sit right back down
And listen to me talk.
I've suffered for your foolish heart and your desperate needsAll this in the opening track of an album named "Absent Fathers" (recorded at the same time as an earlier-released album named "Single Mothers") - yeah, the album certainly warrants the close attention it is receiving elsewhere. This is like a Pick Up Sticks game with needle-sharp sticks of emotional pain.
Now after all this time you're still slipping farther from me
But the sound is the thing for me. Classic barroom country music, but it sounds a bit closer and a lot more personal. There's a lot of beautiful steel guitar on this album, and I've already mentioned the snare drum and Earle's flexible voice, but it's not a show-off album of soaring instrumental solos. It's so perfectly in balance that I don't want to think about how serious it all is.
I read somewhere that great music can create nostalgia for a place you've never been. That's exactly how this album works for me. I'm the son of a caring father, haven't had any major breakdowns or been through rehab, I'm married to the girl I fell in love with when I was 18, and I've lived in the same house for over a quarter century. Justin Townes Earle and I are not exactly living parallel lives, are we? And maybe nostalgia isn't exactly the right term to describe what I feel when I hear about Justin's rougher life of despair and abandonment.
I can imagine listening to this album over a dive bar's sound system, peeling the labels off of Budweiser long necks and shuffling through a slow waltz in my cowboy boots with someone I just met when I hear "When the One You Love Loses Faith". I don't even own cowboy boots, and I'm certainly not a dancer, but that's what comes to mind for me, not the genuine reality of what Justin Townes Earle was describing. Listening to great county music makes you feel sorry for yourself, even if you don't need or deserve the sympathy.
If you're more caring than I am, and you want to plumb the depths of Justin Townes Earle's Dante-esque miseries, you'll love this album. If you're like me, you'll love the music and the emotional tourism it brings. Either way, this is a truly great album, and I'm pretty certain it will wind up near the top of 2015.
Next up: The Beautiful Bones, by Kelley Hunt