Published Jan 28, 2015Some of the most poignant albums of the 20th century were acts of creative therapy; Dylan's Blood on the Tracks, Fleetwood Mac's Rumours and Sinatra's In the Wee Small Hours come to mind. Those were about truncated love, and so is Absent Fathers, Justin Townes Earle's 32-minute gripe at his father, Steve Earle. On the surface the songs are varied in theme, but even a song like "Why," ostensibly about a woman, sings of abandonment and asks, "Why do you always think the worst of me?" The problem is that Earle's melancholy has taken primacy over his songwriting, which is uncharacteristically generic here, making this subdued and plodding release a career low.
This album has no "It Won't Be The Last Time," no "Nothing's Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now," and worst of all, nothing like "Harlem River Blues" to lift the mood. "Looking for a Place to Land" is the closest thing to a standout track, but even it's sullied by an over-emotive, whiny delivery that lacks resonance. Anyone looking to see Earle follow through on his early songwriting promise will be left wanting by Absent Fathers.
Maybe he had to get this stuff off his chest; maybe it's a stepping stone to something a whole lot better. The sad irony of all this filial woe is that if Justin Townes Earle ever pulls it together and writes a complete album, then decades from now it won't be Steve Earle that music history remembers. (Vagrant)