When award-winning singer-songwriter Steve Earle had a son, he named him in honor of his songwriting hero Townes Van Zandt. And while the names of two American music legends could be a daunting obstacle to a youngster trying to make his way in the music business, 26-year-old Justin Townes Earle seems to be up to the task. The younger Earle has a new CD, The Good Life.
Just because he's the namesake of two of America's most lauded singer-songwriters, don't think Justin Townes Earle is going to sound like either of his elders. It's apparent from the first notes of The Good Life that influences as diverse as Kurt Cobain, The Pogues and Ray Charles led the younger Earle to make his own brand of American Roots Music.
His parents divorced when he was young, and Justin Townes Earle says that even though he and his father were both in Nashville, he didn't spend a lot of time with his dad until he was in his early teens.
Justin started writing songs at 14, and many of the songs on The Good Life, including "Ain't Glad I'm Leaving" were written before he was 18. Justin says that when he wrote it, he was trying to tell everybody something about himself. And what he's got to say isn't pretty.
If he's been writing songs for so long, why has it taken so long for Justin Townes Earle to release a record? Part of the reason is a chaotic life that mirrored his father's own battle with substance abuse. Justin developed his own bad habits in his youth, and continued abusing drugs during his tours as a guitarist and keyboard player in father's band, eventually losing the job because of his self-destructive behavior. Justin says "Turn Out My Lights" is a song written for an album that was supposed to come out when he was 18 years old. That record was never released because of his drug problems.
After hitting bottom with his fifth overdose, Justin Townes Earle cleaned up his life, dropped the drugs and began to focus on his songwriting. The result is a debut album that is winning rave reviews from critics all over the world for its mix of blues, rock, and old-time country music.
Another standout among the 10 original songs is "Who Am I To Say," with its story of compassion for lost souls. Like the other tracks on The Good Life, it's proof that Justin Townes Earle has stepped outside the huge shadow cast by the two men he's named for, and proven himself as good a songwriter as any toiling in Nashville today.