Justin Townes Earle
Justin Townes Earle seems to have seen a lot in his 30 years. I can't imagine having Steve Earle as your father was any easy task, and Justin was admittedly addicted to drugs by the age of 12. After being booted from his dad's band and bouncing between groups in his teen years, Earle released this six song record in 2007 as a solo entity.
Yuma is a bare bones recording with an outstanding live feel. It sounds as though he's sitting in an empty apartment with his guitar running through his catalogue. Justin embodies his mentors and the ghost of Townes Van Zandt runs through him. His somber vibe and southern folk style really bring to mind Woody Guthrie and the like. Justin would fit right in riding that train in the dust bowl, his songs ring true and the hard emotion is real.
The opening track "The Ghost of Virginia" has a hard percussive guitar part and Earle's southern twang brings the story of a civil war era train to life. I think that Justin's voice is one of his greatest assets. It really pulls his entire character together and makes everything he says believable. "Yuma" is a solemn song about a young man whose lost his hopes in the city and ultimately takes his own life, it is hauntingly autobiographical. The final song, "A Desolate Angels Blues", could be heard around a hobo fire pit in the middle of a train yard, it's a brooding lament to the other travelers on the road.
Although Yuma has aged, it's aged well. Justin's later albums became polished and gained a mature sound, but to me, Yuma was and always will be a strong foundation for this astounding artist.
A Friend of a Friend
Dave Rawlings Machine
I believe Dave Rawlings and company are an important piece of the modern music puzzle. Dave has rolled with Ryan Adams, Gillian Welch, Old Crow Medicine Show, among others. They're the connective tissue between generations and genres. They're pertinent and progressive and always prolific. Dave Rawlings was always the one pounding on his old guitar, tearing solos like no body's business. I'm pretty sure he made a deal with the Devil.
For as long as Dave has been in the industry, this is surprisingly his first release under his own name. Aptly named A Friend of a Friend, Dave borrowed many of the songs from artists he's worked with and also got them to play on this record. Gillian Welch either sings gracious harmony or strums the guitar on almost every track. "To Be Young (Is to Be Sad, Is to Be High)" was a Ryan Adams tune that Dave took and turned on its head, adding fiddle and percussive guitar strumming. He actually did this to most of the songs on this album, they're very youthful and rambunctious. "Sweet Tooth", "How's About You", and "It's Too Easy" all have an old timey and fun feel. "I Hear Them All" and "Method Acting/ Cortez The Killer" bring down the tempo and are quiet and contemplative. Rawlings blends Conner Oberst's "Method Acting" and Neil Youngs "Cortez The Killer" into a 10 minute lament and a fresh take on both songs.
Friend feels a lot more like a front porch jam than a studio album. The instrumentation is lively; Rawlings seems to have been captured in his natural setting and spontaneity seemed to direct much of the arranging. Dave adds a small solo in here or there, and that brings the album to life.
It was nice to see one of my favorite musicians finally spring into the spotlight and deliver his own take on some of my favorite songs, as well as showcase his own.