“Absent father/Oh, never offer even a dollar/He doesn’t seem to be bothered/By the fact that he’s forfeit his rights to his own,” sang Justin Townes Earle on the title track of his fifth album Single Mothers. These resonant words paved the way for its companion album, Absent Fathers. Recorded alongside its predecessor, Absent Fathers further adds to Justin’s reputation as a leading figure in Contemporary Americana, cemented by the critical success of Single Mothers.
This album continues to be intensely informed by the great genres of American popular music. It opens with the Nashville-brushed blues of Farther From Me, whose melancholy is only intensified by its weeping, melodic guitars. From here he moves to brilliant, classic blues. With just two guitars and Justin’s voice, Least I Got The Blues is delightfully short and bittersweet. Absent Fathers picks up tempo, but perhaps not energy, with Call Ya Momma, before indulging in a much needed power boost at the album’s apex. Round The Bend is an ‘Otis Redding meets the blue-eyed sensibilities of Elvis’ piece of classic mid-century rhythm and blues.
Justin explores distressing feelings of regret and uncertainty with the languid and relatable Day And Night, before exhibiting that quintessential gallows humour in Someone Will Pay. When The One You Love Loses Faith, on the other hand, is a soulful, agonising sonic representation of a victim of betrayal collapsing in complete sorrow and desperation.
The thematic and lyrical content of Justin Townes Earle’s sixth full-length album carefully and flawlessly balance the realm between intensely intimate and universally relevant. While there’s no doubt Justin Townes Earle has carved a place for himself among the great storytellers of contemporary Americana with his brilliant song craft, there is an energy that is sometimes lost on this album. He will never need to jump up and down, or choreograph some sort of routine to his beautiful narratives, but his melancholy and shattering resignation would be rendered even more heart-breaking if they were paired with only a few more moments of upbeat glee or rapture.