It is now the third month of 2009 and I already have my third favorite album of the year thus far. I told you that I fall hard for albums in an earlier post and I will do my utter best to prove it to all ten of you loyalists. First the bombastic and trail inducing ear candy of Meriwether Post Pavilion, then the beautifully honest and heartbreaking Leave Ruin, and now this. Now, I don’t think that I’ll be shouting about this record from tall buildings or bridges, and I won’t even feel like a hip bastard for knowing about the gem that is Justin Townes Earle’s Midnight at the Movies before a lot of others. Why? To tell the truth, it’s just not that type of an album. I don’t think it calls for that type of a reaction at all. It’s more of an album that plays on the jukebox of every wonderfully shitty bar that’s smoke filled and empty. That’s how I encountered it. Golden. A SMALL group of people met at a local bar, were dealt Pabst Blue Ribbon by a tattooed server, inhaled crazy amounts of carcinogens and listened as intently as possible over the uninterested but amusing backroom. It was the perfect listening experience!
My wife, upon hearing the first notes of a steel guitar and a piano at the start of track two, “What I Meant to You” said “I’ve heard this before. I have. It sounds like something my grandparents used to listen to.” After I momentarily and angrily chuckled at what I thought was a snide comment about my new passion, I with a (know it all) wink remarked, “EXACTLY.” After she exited the car and went off to bury herself in PHDery, I drove out of the parking lot wondering just what it was about this music and this tall Tennessean that made me tap my foot like a grass chewing red neck and seek out every thrift store western shirt this side of the Mississippi. And it basically comes down to one thing. There is an absolute simplicity that bleeds into continuity behind this, and his previous record, that make them such pleasures to listen to. Justin Townes Earle takes country music and doesn’t try to alter it. Doesn’t try to do too many configurations to it. He’s not trying to change the world by being the “next” anybody. Shit, he’s already got enough of a shadow with Townes & Earle making up 2/3 of his name to add any weight to his already hefty load. One listen may reveal slyly tossed in glitches of pop, indie rock sensibility, and even a little ragtime but in the end it all adds up to equal one hell of a country record that converts anyone that swoons even a little at the sound of a dobro or mandolin.
“Midnight at the Movies” opens as Earle tells a story about every wandering loner that has searched for solace in dark and dirty places that require silence and silent reflection. “So, it’s half price, double feature, two and a quarter after seven o’clock….” His trips to the cinema come at a fair price but even though the auditorium is populated with gamblers, possible prostitutes, and pixilated celebrities, his company only illuminates the fact that he’s alone and has nothing waiting for him at home. It’s a sad song and one that normally wouldn’t fit at lead off, but he sings it with a confidence that brings you in. Intrigues you. Makes you want to follow him around and study his habits. Not put him on suicide watch. From this point on, you’re batting around. The rest of the album plays out wonderfully mixing in toe tapping bluegrass-y numbers like “BlackEyed Suzie,” the toe stomping rag, “Walk Out” and classic country tracks like “Poor Fool” “Here We Go Again” and “Mama’s Eyes.” Take my word for it, you definitely won’t have to worry about skipping over tracks on Midnight at the Movies. The only time you’ll be reaching for the controls will be to play over a short and catchy ditty that’ll be stuck in your head until the day has died.