Record Review: Justin Townes Earle – Absent Fathers



Justin Townes Earle’s album Absent Fathers completes the domestic saga, that listeners first indulged in while listening to Earle’s previous record Single Mothers.  Some time ago, Justin Townes Earle recorded twenty tracks which he then decided to separate into two albums; both albums were given custody of ten songs each and have since been released; somewhat diplomatically and symbolically, four months apart.

The emotional drama and tension surrounding the release of Absent Fathers gives a fair insight into the content that the album has in store for it’s listeners. The album focuses on the domestic sphere; parental relationships and disappointments are explored, and the everyday mundane is exaggerated.

While Absent Fathers continues the Nashville bluegrass country theme that so much of Justin Townes Earle’s music celebrates; many of the simple, upbeat melodies on the record have coastal, surf-town motifs resonating throughout. Earle is incredibly self aware, his country boy music contrasts with his slick appearance; he’s a hickish hipster; a scruffy, suit wearing Tennese-ite, that knows how to make good music.

The opening track on the album, Farther From Me, is an explicit ode to Justin’s estrange country rocker Father, Steve Earle. “Wish I could say that I know you“ Justin muses, “you won‘t break my heart again…after all this time, you’re still slipping farther from me”. The upbeat pop melody is complimented by a pedal steel guitar, which features heavily throughout the record; reinforcing the country vibe that Earle consciously creates.

The soul searching continues during Absent Fathers. In California blues track Why we see Justin overwhelmed by unanswerable questions. Later, in Slow Monday Justin hit’s the Americana vibe hard; the bluesy pedal steel guitar’s presence is solid, with lyrics to match. Justin sings about satisfying his “baby” and his woes regarding working 9 to 5 ( he may even slip in a line about the joys of double denim and his pick up truck, it gets a little hazy).

Cheerful tracks Round the Bend and  Someone Will Pay fit more into the ‘country rawk’ category, with catchy melodies, pulsating bass lines and lyrics about revenge, being a failure (“your momma’s only boy, your daddy’s only shame”) and losing love interests; its’ all good, hearty, Americana fun.

Justin Townes Earle has a clear vocal talent, his rich and velvety tones are flaunted throughout Absent Fathers; slower ballads like When The One You Love Loses Faith and Day and Night exhibit Justin’s true vocal ability and allow the artist to delve deeper into his collection of autobiographical anecdotes.

Absent Fathers is a great contemporary Americana record. Thankfully, is not too often that a singer songwriter decides to transform their record into a pop-confessional family-counselling-session. Warbling about parental issues and feelings of abandonment was a risky move for Earle, yet he pulls it off, and creates some good country folk tunes at the same time.

Jessica Newsome