It’s coming up time for Celtic Connections and one of the highlights will surely be the much-anticipated appearance by Justin Townes Earle, indeed, his show at Oran Mor on 17th January was so swamped by demand that it’s been shifted to the larger O2ABC. Four days earlier sees the release of Absent Fathers, the unexpected companion piece to his last album, Single Mothers released only three months ago. A Yin/Yan concept of sorts the splitting of the releases reflects Earle’s own background as a child of separated parents and there is surely a temptation to hone in on his relationship with his father, Steve Earle. An eight times married man, drug addict and ex jailbird, hard enough to cope with never mind the fact that Earle senior has surmounted his own devils to become one of the most respected Americana artists around, one who regularly relates anecdotes about Justin at his live shows. With his own addiction issues to deal with in the past Earle junior could easily have got lost in some Freudian fog and crash-landed. Instead he’s one of the few rock’n’roll offspring who have made their own mark with five well respected albums under his belt allowing him to come out from under his father’s shadow.
Recorded simultaneously with Single Mothers, Absent Fathers maintains the loose country rock styled approach with just a hint of rockabilly at the edges, a step away from the swinging jauntiness of Harlem River Blues and Nothing’s Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now. Despite the parental background there’s no Wainright like psychodrama here. While several of the songs reference momma’s and father’s it’s in the context of Earle’s ongoing relationship difficulties with none of the pointedness evident on Single Mothers where he sang “Absent father, is long gone now” on the title song. Paul Niehaus’ pedal steel is to the fore on many of the tracks adding to the resigned, melancholic air that pervades the album with Day And Night standing out with Earle’s guitar picking and plaintive voice floating over the keening pedal steel.
Opening with the bittersweet kick of Farther From Me with some fine guitar licks from Niehaus Earle is in fine voice, relaxed and resigned as he sings of detachment and loneliness. Why is jauntier in its delivery but again the subject is lost love. It leads to the old fashioned country lament of Least I Got the Blues which sounds like Hank Williams on downers. Call Ya Momma adds a rock beat to the mix adding up to a chunky mea culpa as Earle regrets his treatment of a partner adding a sob to his voice at the end. Round The Bend recalls the earthy R’n’B of Tim Buckley on Greetings from LA as it churns and snakes away while Someone Will Pay is another bruised and slinky rocker as Earle plots to get even with those who’ve let him down. There’s a southern soul feel to When The One You Love Loses Faith which echoes Otis Redding in its hurt and pain with Earle well able to convey this in his vocals. He wraps the album up with a solo rendition of Looking For A Place To Land, a song that is probably the most autobiographical here as he uses a metaphor to describe learning to fly at too young an age and its attendant dangers. Wishing to land despite a fear that in doing so he’ll never fly again he eventually touches down, safe despite the past. Apparently now clean and sober and in a relationship it’s safe to say that on the evidence here Earle is still capable of flying high with Absent Fathers a superb album overall.
Tying up these siblings Loose Music. have announced that Single Mothers and Absent Fathers will be released as a double vinyl set, a lovely notion that on plastic at least sees Earle’s family reunited.