Rhythm & Views

Justin Townes Earle

Justin Townes Earle seemed to emerge fully formed on The Good Life, his devilishly assured 2008 full-length debut.

He's even more confident on Midnight at the Movies. Earle's forte is a knowing, laconic mélange of modern honky-tonk, high lonesome folk and bluegrass, and smooth but not slick contemporary country--a 21st-century twang mix.

Clearly wise and well-traveled, this boy has done some living, but now he's fully immersed in the present. He and his stylishly scruffy-looking compadres offer 11 originals, plus a smooth, mandolin-driven cover of "Can't Hardly Wait" by The Replacements. He steps on the railway tracks for "Halfway to Jackson," busts out a vaudevillian two-step on "Walk Out" and will probably break some hearts with the silky country-politan title track.

But the song sure to garner the most attention is "Mama's Eyes," where he offers, ahem, a sober assessment of his relationship with his father, the notoriously irascible Steve Earle. "I am my father's son / Never know when to shut up," he sings. "We don't see eye to eye / I'll be the first to admit I never tried ... I was a young man when / I first found my pleasure in the pill / And I went down the same road as my old man."

That's Justin Townes Earle: honest, clear-eyed and poetic.

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