New albums by Justin Townes Earle seem to mark time and slow incremental progress. Earle has settled into a groove into which he seems perfectly content churning out heartbreak alternative country ballads with some more up tempo numbers thrown in for good measure. The ballads seem to be winning on this new album "Single Mothers" and since Ryan Adams has ostensibly decided on his latest release to do a passable impression of Tom Petty, it appears that Townes Earle is turning to the formers "Heartbreaker" for inspiration. Songs like "Today and a lonely night", "Picture in a Drawer", "White Gardenia's" and the excellent "It's cold in this house" would be hailed as outright classics in other settings and they all prove that Townes Earle can write a superb sad lament in the tradition of his namesake Townes Van Zandt. The album however is less successful on the rather middle of the road country of the opener "Worried about the Weather" or the plodding rocker "Burning Pictures". Indeed none of the rockier tracks are in the class of songs like "Halfway to Jackson" or "Harlem River Blues" from previous albums.
The good news for Earle fans is the fact following some very turbulent years he back on the rails and there are real signs here that all the mighty forces might come together on future releases to see him produce a stone cold classic of the alt country genre. His extended long weekend of recent years has become a source for some of his best material. Similarly his troubled relationship with his father Steve Earle remains a source of resentment. As he bitterly states in the nice bluesy title track "Absent father, oh, never offers, even a dollar / He doesn't seem to be bothered / By the fact that he's forfeited his right to his own, now / Absent father, is long gone now." Stick with Justin Townes Earle, there are songs on "Single mothers" which are as good as anything by Ryan Adams and Jason Isbell. Indeed like the latter a fully sober and cleaned up Earle could be a real contender.
Review by Red on Black