For those who loved country before Music Row smothered it in studio laquerwork or who are just fans of flavorful southern music with short attention spans, here’s the skinny on singer/songwriter Justin Townes Earle’s studio debut “The Good LIfe”: as soon as it hits shelves March 25, pick it up.
Now that we’re past that sweeping statement, here’s why.
For the course of 11 tracks, Earle takes listeners on a sweeping tour of southern music, from Gulf coast to Carolina Piedmont. And he’s captured it all at a breakneck pace; the whole album clocks in at just over 40 minutes.
Along the way, he convincingly explores everything from tragic Civil War ballads (“Lone Pine Hill”) and blues organ riffs (“South Georgia Sugar Babe”) to lonesome Hank Williams-esque numbers (“What Do You Do When You’re Lonesome”) and the Muscle Shoals sound (“Far Away in Another Town”).
Earle may be the son of outlaw country singer/songwriter Steve Earle, but it would be a mistake to expect a dozen “Copperhead Road” retreads. Earle the junior’s work tends more towards the warmth of his father’s later-era works that featured more genre exploration.
The album was recorded in just a week, a sign either of a rushed assembly or a clockwork-like cooperation by all involved. But “The Good Life” definitely falls into the latter category and doesn’t suffer for the alacrity of its production.
The all-analog methods used provide a sense of gritty space that would have been lost with too much Pro Tools studio tinkering. Besides, sticking to era-appropriate equipment and techniques adds tremendously to the sense of authenticity — of “rightness” — to the tracks. If Hank didn’t use it, chances are, neither did Earle, and the album is better for this no-frills approach.
Earle’s voice slides into just the right grooves for whatever genre he’s exploring, whether blazing above the light accompaniment of his own guitar, as in the lamenting self-analysis of “Who am I to Say?” or weaving among the backing of multiple instruments on tracks like “Hard Livin’.”
Whatever the style, Earle leans tall and heavy into the mike. You can almost smell the Dapper Dan in his hair and the sweat on his brow. It’s easy to imagine hearing “The Good Life” spilling out of the tinny speakers of a vacuum-tube ’30s Philco between the latest episodes of “Little Orphan Annie” and “Dick Tracy.”
Buy “The Good Life,” it just might restore your faith in the future of Music Row.
E-mail Casey Phillips at firstname.lastname@example.org
Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, young adults, technology and people of interest. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German. He previously worked as the features editor for Sidelines at Middle Tennessee State University. Casey received the East Tennessee Society of Professional Journalists Award of Excellence for Reviewing/Criticism in ...