It can’t have been easy for Justin, named after one of the greatest (but sadly,virtually unheard) song writers ever (the late, great, Townes Van Zandt) and the son of one of the most notorious Country-Rock artists in the good ol’ USA (Steve Earle). However, Justin has been carving out his own niche for some time now and by now he certainly has his own fully formed sound.
Its encouraging that on this very short album (a shade under 30 minutes) Justin sounds relaxed but in a melancholic frame of mind. The songs are a first class set of weeping ballads with a couple of rockers tossed in . “My Baby Drives”, the first of the faster paced ditties, has some whiplash rockabilly style guitar and clipped rhythmic drumming that highlights the musicians great empathy and gives the whole thing a nice live feel. The title track, “Single Mothers”, sounds like a bitter sideswipe at an absent father that had little feeling for his son. Lyrics like “Blames the father because he never bothered” and “Single mother – absent father – broken home” may not be autobiographical but they will make uncomfortable listening for Mr Earle senior. “Today and a Lonely Night” has that same beautiful pedal steel guitar running through it that gives it a really weepy feel and similarly “Picture in a Draw” has a river of misery running through it as we hear a sad tale of “mama’s” loss and the singers loneliness as all he has left is a picture of his dear mother and the crying pedal steel is made even more poignant by the lone acoustic guitar accompanying it. You can’t help but feel that sadness as we hear ” Yours is the first voice I’ve heard in days”.
The whole feel of the album is one of loss and regret and it rarely rises above the melancholic and lonesome feel. On “Wanna Be a Stranger” we hear the singer drowning in a pool of whiskey as he ruminates on everything he’s lost and looks for a way out at a lonesome railway station – there’s no happy endings here though.
“White Gardenias” keeps the pedal steel in the foreground as we hear another tale of loss as our heroes girl wanders away from him. Things move a way from all these broken hearts with the more philosophical “Time Shows Fools” when the jaunty tune and splintering guitar instil a little hope into the proceedings but then “It’s Cold in This House” returns to the more maudlin themesp and has something of Tom Waits feeling to it with sparse guitar and the ever present pedal steel.
This is a leap forward for Justin as it marks new territory away from his (semi) famous father. The album ends with an impressive upswing with “Burning Pictures” that is more rock than country and Justin certainly borrows the tune from Bob Dylan’s “Absolutely Sweet Marie” but the guitars are cranked up and the drums crash and it transcends it’s roots and ends the album in fine style. A solid effort from the clearly improving Justin Townes Earle. Go and buy this one.
Reviewer: Greg Johnson.