- Artist: Justin Townes Earl
- Title: The Saint of Lost Causes
- Released: 2019
- Format: Digital Download
- Genre: Americana
- Beverage of Choice: Stone Buenaveza Salt & Lime Lager
I’ve always felt it must be really difficult for the sons of exceptionally talented (or simply very famous) Dads to carve out their own path in life in the same area for which the father is well known. There are some kids in the music arena though that make it look really easy; witness Chris Stills, Jakob Dylan, Jeff Buckley, Sean Lennon, Jason Bonham and this standout artist, Justin Townes Earl.
This album is the latest in Earle’s short but sweet catalog of hybrid folk, blues and country records that delivers a particularly bitter-sweet punch in this time in US history. His father, Steve Earle, is of course almost as famous for his left-leaning political views as his prodigious American songwriting skills and Justin does follow along in that path, albeit with his own style, tone and dynamic. The music is almost laconic in pace and ambiance, with some of the vocals sounding as if he’s singing to himself, musing/riffing on a theme and we are listening from outside, trying to keep up with where he’s going. At other times, the story is personal and intimate, up close and crystal clear in meaning and melody.
I’ve been spinning this one for a few months now, probably having listened to it on aggregate about a dozen times and I find myself coming back to it again with a sense of discovery and delight, seeking to decipher the layers of dense storytelling and musicianship and claim them as part of my library; connecting the dots to society, musical heritage and other artists/songs that I know and love. The album doesn’t disappoint in any respect and I feel it’s going to become a favorite over time; I’ve already ordered the double album vinyl version and can’t wait to experience the music in the best format of all! I know this may be heretical for many of you born and raised in the digital age, but analog rules.
I leave it up to you to listen through the tracks and extract what you can, my advice is to make sure you carve out the time to listen to the album as a whole, focus on the dynamic between lyric and instrument, listen for delightful elements of piano, harmonica, pedal steel, acoustic guitar and Earle’s tenor vocals well-suited to the range and tone of his carefully-crafted stories. This is truly American music at it’s best; timeless yet timely, cross-cultural especially in his dissection of family relationships, work and dreams for the future. A sense of place and belonging is what we’re all looking for and The Saint of Lost Causes takes us there on the back of it’s shuffle, blues, country and folk-rock pickup truck headed West.
Postscript 8/23/20: we just learned of the untimely passing of JTE at the ridiculously under ripe age of 38. He made the world a better place with his music and will be sorely missed, at least by this fan – I just got an autographed vinyl copy of Lost Causes and it’s sad to think that this could be one of the last records he signed. I’ll treasure it and pass it down to the next generation, remembering to tell the story of how, for a short time, Justin Townes Earle shone brightly and shared his rich talent with us. I am grateful we have his recorded music as a legacy and he will not be forgotten.