It has taken me a bit to get to the debut record The Good Life (Bloodshot) from Justin Townes Earle, but ultimately I am glad I did. As a listener I have done my best to put aside the fact that he is the son of all-time great Steve Earle, and the that he blatantly uses his middle name "Townes" for what can only be self serving purposes. I prefer his more modest nickname "JT." Let his music be the story - not his name.
With that said, Earle's music surprises with its buoyancy, and distance from the quagmire that the genre "alt-country" has become. With its authentic barroom-country arrangements and generally lighthearted feel, The Good Life comes off as more happy and enjoyable than I'm sure Earle intended. The highlights are the album's title track and cheeky opening tune "Hard Livin'."
One of the album's best songs, the downcast "Lone Pine Hill," captures the spirit of his father Steve to a fault. While the feel of the tune echoes the style of his other namesake, Mr. Van Zandt, the lyrical setting too closely mirrors his father's classic tune "The Mountain." Both take place on a lonesome hill stripped bare by company mines, and yes, both use the word "hollers".
The Good Life makes a solid case for Justin Earle as an emerging songwriter in the Americana genre. The 10 songs on this record breathe a welcome breath of fresh air into what is becoming an increasingly stale music style. Earle needs a few more years under his belt before his work can come close to that of the artists with whom he shares his name. If Earle can let his music be the focus, he will certainly continue to impress with his refreshing, and ok, well-bred songwriting talents.