Justin Townes Earle

Midnight at the Movies

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"I am my father's son/ I've never known when to shut up/I ain't foolin' no one/I am my father's son." These words lead off the fourth song on Justin Townes Earle's second album, Midnight at the Movies, and given that many people still know him as the son of iconic singer/songwriter Steve Earle, it's a brave and startling statement. But at the same time, much like his 2008 debut The Good Life, Earle's second album works because he seems determined not be his father's son; the tone and the feel of this music owes precious little to the family line, and Earle sounds appreciably more relaxed, confident, and in control here than he did on his fine debut. Earle's music has one toe tangled in hillbilly tradition on the folk ballad pastiche "They Killed John Henry," the uptempo string band number "Black Eyed Suzy," and the honky tonk swing of "Poor Fool," but he can write about love and life with a clear and unaffected eye that's effortlessly timeless. The title song is a musical snapshot that gets its Nighthawks details just right, "Someday I'll Be Forgiven for This" and "Here We Go Again" are painfully intimate examinations of what can happen between people who care for each other, and while "Poor Fool" and "Walk Out" sound jaunty, they have a weight behind them that's telling. And while Earle doesn't sound like a guy who should be covering the Replacements, his version of "Can't Hardly Wait" finds a sweet heartache at the core that Paul Westerberg was afraid to show in his recording. Midnight at the Movies plays more like a subtle step forward for Justin Townes Earle than a quantum leap, but if the The Good Life suggested he was a talent to watch, this record confirms that he's a new writer to be reckoned with who doesn't need to trade on his family name.

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