On his sophomore album, Earle has a song called "They Killed John Henry" that starts out at the folk hero's funeral and moves the celebrated tale forward. It's a gutsy move for a songwriter, essentially offering up a sequel to a slice of classic American folk literature, but Steve Earle's son clearly has the talent to carry out such ambition effortlessly.
He's fully absorbed his genetic and cultural heritage and draws upon both with great skill and dimension. "Mama's Eyes" recognizes the curse and blessing of that heritage. He walks in the large footsteps of Willie Nelson and Bob Wills in "What I Mean to You" and "Poor Fool," a couple of Texas honky-tonk swing tunes.
The title song exhibits some of his dad's and John Prine's deftness for creating and empathizing with outsider characters, while an acousticized version of the Replacements' "Can't Hardly Wait" brings the indie rock facet of his rich set of influences to the forefront. He organically forges those into an utterly distinctive voice that takes what's come before and artfully moves it forward with the power of a certain steel-driving man.
-- Randy Lewis
Justin Townes Earle
"Midnight at the Movies"
Three and a half stars