Midnight At the Movies
It’s easy to overemphasize Justin Townes Earle’s pedigree — when you’re the son of Steve Earle (as well as the namesake of Townes Van Zandt), expectations are naturally high. But Justin doesn’t live up to his heritage so much as transcend it on his sophomore album Midnight At the Movies. His approach to the singer/songwriter’s craft avoids the bravura flourishes of the elder Earle in favor of something more nuanced and restrained. The furtive love scenarios in “Here We Go Again,” “Someday I’ll Be Forgiven for This,” and the title track betray a delicate touch that draws tears and blood. Earle dashes off folk-rooted balladry (“They Killed John Henry”), ‘30s-style string band ditties (“What I Mean to You”) and classic barstool country (“Poor Fool”) with deceptive nonchalance. His voice shifts from a parched rasp to a mellifluent croon without losing focus, and as a lyricist he distills poetry out of bleak character sketches (“Black Eyed Suzy”) and painful family portraits (“Mama’s Eyes”). This short, bittersweet album testifies to Earle’s ability to stand upon his talent, not just his family name.