Justin Townes Earle, ‘Absent Fathers’ – Album Review
Four months following the release of Justin Townes Earle’s ‘Single Mothers’ -- certainly a turning point in the singer-songwriter’s career -- Earle has now completed his thought with its counterpart, ‘Absent Fathers.’ Though Earle was smart in breaking up the delivery of his quasi-double album, songs from both albums act as neat, complementary bookends.
“Absent father, never offer even a dollar / He doesn’t seem to be bothered by the fact that he’s forfeited his rights to own / Absent father is long gone,” Earle sings with his signature twang on the title track of ‘Single Mothers.’
On ‘Absent Fathers,’ Earle picks up where he left off. “Wish I could say I didn’t know you,” he croons on ‘Farther From Me.’ “You won’t break my heart again / You broke it once and I was too young and it didn’t mend.”
It’s this forthright, confessional approach that makes the pair of albums Earle’s most poignant output to date. Sober since 2011 and recently married in 2013, Earle reconciles his own past with clarity and dexterity.
The instrumentation on ‘Absent Fathers’ follows suit, offering the same kind of sparse but purposeful arrangements. Like ‘Single Mothers,’ the album features winding steel (‘Day and Night’) and hard-plucked guitars (‘Call Ya Momma’), all of which let Earle’s confident warble and skillful storytelling take center stage.
While both ‘Single Mothers’ and ‘Absent Fathers’ stay true to Earle’s solemn songwriting, every song is forward-moving. Even the album covers are a nod to the Nashville singer’s growth. Each of Earle’s six LPs feature a man and woman as the focal point. ‘Single Mothers,’ however, depicts a young couple, holding hands and staring straight ahead, while ‘Absent Fathers’ features Earle himself, now 33, in a similar position.
Earle demonstrates this growth on ‘Absent Fathers,’ assuredly addressing his own painful past of broken homes, families and relationships, but nevertheless concluding on a hopeful note with ‘Absent Fathers’’ closing track, ‘Looking for a Place to Land.’
“Now I never fly alone / I’ve got a place to land,” Earle sings, acknowledging he’s arrived at a happier, healthier place in his life, ultimately making way for some his best work yet.