When Steve Earle named his son Justin Townes Earle (pictured), it’s like he was daring the kid to grow up to be a musician. As if having a famous dad weren’t enough pressure, Justin got his distinctive middle name thanks to the elder Earle’s friendship with one of America’s greatest and most tragic songwriters, Townes Van Zandt.
“Anyone who tries to live up to Van Zandt is a fool,” Justin says in his press bio. “I’m honored to carry the name, but if I spent my life trying to live up to it, I’d have a pretty miserable life.” Though he may not be making himself miserable, neither does he try to wiggle out from underneath that weighty legacy: on his impressive solo debut, The Good Life (Bloodshot), he raises the stakes for himself by embracing the same traditions that his father and Van Zandt did, even writing the same kind of emotionally fraught ballads. He draws on other old-school influences too: “What Do You Do When You’re Lonesome” slips into the space between “Honky Tonk Angels” and “Heartaches by the Number,” and “Ain’t Glad I’m Leaving” is pure Hank Williams.
What might be most notable about the album is that Earle, though only 25, can traffic in styles that predate his own birth but maintain a voice all his own, unmarked by any era and remarkably free of affect. I was plenty skeptical at first, but each additional listen has made me more sure that this guy’s the real deal. Earle opens for the Felice Brothers on Tuesday night at Schubas.
Keiji Haino, Uchu ni karami tsuiteiru waga itami (PSF)
Gil Coggins, Better Late Than Never (Smalls)
Brian Eno, Thursday Afternoon (Astralwerks)
Scritti Politti, Early (Rough Trade)
Carlos Barretto Trio, Radio Song (Clean Feed)