Justin Townes Earle clearly does not lack in confidence. Seeking recognition as a distinctive country talent was going to be difficult enough, toting the mixed blessing of his father's surname — that Earle the younger is also flouting that middle name, bestowed in honour of Steve Earle's hero Townes Van Zandt, is indicative of a fondness for a challenge, or a relish for impossible struggles.
Fortunately, nothing on this, Earle's fine debut album, lets the side down — its best moments, indeed, would earn their places in the catalogues of either of the men whose names he carries. Earle trades largely in a sparse, acoustic interpretation of country, his baleful and mostly downbeat songs only fleetingly illuminated by harmonica and violin. Tracks like "Turn out My Lights" and "Who Am I to Say" will inevitably put listeners in mind of Steve Earle's "My Old Friend the Blues" and "Lonelier Than This," but they have a life of their own. Earle probably has more in common with more left-field presences like former Drive-By Trucker Jason Isbell, or perhaps Todd Snider at his less playful moments.
Earle has the sense to leaven his balladry with some more upbeat moments. "Ain't Glad I'm Leaving" is gorgeous deadpan self-mockery, surely a reverent inversion of Hank Williams '"You're Gonna Change (Or I'm Gonna Leave),” and "What Do You Do When You're Lonesome," an irresistible shuffle, is a deceptively upbeat invective that might have pleased Faron Young.
Earle is a way yet from anyone referring to Steve as "Justin's father," but he's still young, and he's certainly learnt from the best.