When I wrote about Steve Earle’s 1984 album Guitar Town, I said, “It’s that feeling of earned realness that I am becoming more and more aware of in the country music I like. I think it’s because it gives me a vicarious feeling of being one of this down south, good ol’ boy shit kickers.”
Now, his son, Justin Townes Earle might have been raised in luxury bought by Steve’s success. Justin Townes Earle may have been an innocent victim of his father’s excesses. I have no idea. But I do know that the opening notes of The Good Life have the feeling of earned realness.
Less like the shit kicking of his father or country outlaws like Waylon Jennings, and more in the hymn inspired vibe of Hank Williams, Hard Livin’ and The Good Life are vintage, olden days country music at its twangiest.
But it’s not all throw backs and tributes. Who Am I to Say is very much the work of a modern day singer song writer. There’s a tinge of country at its core, but no drawl, banjo pluckin’ or fiddle playin’. Just a solid acoustic song that knows less is more. That same feel returns later on the sweet duet, Turn Out My Lights. It may have some violin, but this is prestige string section stuff, not fiddle.
Things turn honkey tonkin’ and boot scootin’ on What Do You Do When You’re Lonesome and I’ll be buggered if Earle doesn’t make it work. This kind of music can so easily turn into cornball self parody. But there’s something in Earle’s voice and vocal delivery that sells it as the real deal.
That sentiment sums up The Good Life as a whole. It’s a young dude, several generations younger than the style of music he’s playing. Yet Justin Townes Earle never sounds like a throwback, or a tribute, or an imitator. He owns these songs and always brings nothing less than complete authenticity to the older-than-his- years sound.