Justin Townes Earle will be a star. Writing anything about Midnight At The Movies is intimidating because I know I can’t do this album justice.‚ I guess Justin would say carving a name for himself in the music industry is a little intimidating, being the namesake of Townes Van Zandt and the son of Steve Earle.
I’ve been a huge fan of Steve Earle, but my interest has waned over the past several years as his songs have been overshadowed by his political agenda. Justin has decidedly taken a a different path. In his interview with Dodge at LaundroMatinee he said:
It doesn’t happen as much these days, but when I was just starting out, people would show up expecting me to have this gruff voice, writing political songs and grandstanding in front of audiences about politics, which is the exact opposite of what I do. I, for the most part, leave my politics completely out of my music, because I view music as a place to have a good time and forget about what’s going on out there. It’s time to relax and have a good fucking time. I want to make you think, but I don’t want to make you think about how shitty your life is.
Thank you, Justin (although my life isn’t all that bad, actually).
Since he’s not singing about Guantanamo, Obama or the recession, he can spend his time writing songs about chasing the girl, quitting the booze, becoming a man, and staying true to himself. The album features some ragtime music that makes you feel like you’re in a speakeasy during prohibition (Walk Out), finger-picking jams (Dirty Rag) and even a Replacements cover (Can’t Hardly Wait). And what kind of country album would this be without a train song?‚ The rhythm of “Halfway to Jackson” chugs its way across Americana with the harmonica blowing steam off the tracks.
But when Justin is at his best is in the tender moments. “Someday You’ll Be Forgiven For This” and “Midnight At The Movies” are fragile songs that warm you like a tattered sweater and “Mama’s Eyes” can bring a tear to any grown man’s eye. I know I got a little dust in mine.
With Midnight At The Movies, Justin Townes Earle tips the brim of his hat to his country, blues and roots predecessors and proves that American storytelling and the purity of song are still alive. This album makes country music inspired and relevant again. Hopefully Towns Van Zandt, Lightin’ Hopkins, Jimmy Reed and Woody Guthrie are restin’ easy knowing that Justin Townes Earle is safely carrying the torch they lit.
Bootlegs from a December 14th, 2008 show at the Cactus Cafe: