Justin Townes Earle - Back Home to Yuma
It is safe to say that the 2020s have served their fair share of losses and tragedies. The deaths of inspiring icons such as MF Doom, Bill Withers, and Jon Prine, remind us of how lucky we are when we live in the midst of exceptional artistry. Justin Townes Earle remains another lost talent of the past twelve months, and a superior talent he certainly was. In August of 2020, the singer-songwriter was found dead in his Nashville apartment by the local Fire Department. His death was deemed as a probable drug overdose as Towns Earle had struggled with addiction from a very early age. Famously, Townes Earle was stated discussing his earliest dabblings in heroin at 12 years old, partially attributing his struggles to tough home life and a sketchy relationship with his father, singer/songwriter Steve Earle.
Towns Earle seemed to have a tortured existence, but I'm not here to ignorantly speculate on a man's life whom I had never met. That being said, I can tell you that what made Townes Earle a legend was his raw, unsolicited, and era-bending style as an artist.
Townes Earle's first emerged on the scene as a solo artist with his 2007 EP Yuma. Townes Earle combines his southern roots and masterful bluesy twang with haunting lyrics about life, death, addiction, and regional stories.
The first song on the EP, "The Ghost of Virginia", sets the tone for Townes Earle's mood as an artist. He depicts a deceased steam engine who carried her share of coal and soldiers from "Raleigh up to Richmond" in the civil war era as a spirited symbol of the South and its history; forever haunting the southern states and its people for generations.
The Yuma EP consists of six songs, all of which take a rather upbeat, bluegrass style guitar picking, and place it against meaningful lyrics of struggle and death. The most daunting of the songs, "Yuma", discusses a young 23-year-old who had burned out his will to live, describing the young man's last day in loneliness.
The bridge of the song sets the young man up for his fate as Towns Earle sings:
Lookin' back I'd say, it wasn't so much the girl
As it was the booze and the dope
And the way he took the weight of the world up upon his shoulders
And let it wash the blue from his eyes as he grew colder
As through all those lonely nights there left alone
The Yuma EP is one of my all-time favorites portrayals of the deep feelings of despair that depression brings. JTE uses a realistic and raw view of a tortured mind; the seemingly happy melodies versus the desperate lyrics, in my opinion, show the cliched reality of smiling through the wish of ending it all.
Justin Towns Earle's career consisted of 8 more albums from 2008-2019. His first full album after Yuma, The Good Life, was released on March 25th of 2008 with Bloodshot Records. He stayed with Bloodshot until 2012, putting out Midnight at the Movies, Harlem River Blues, and Nothing's Gonna Change the way you Feel About me Now.
Towns Earle's released Single Mothers in 2014 and Absent Fathers in 2015, both through Vagrant Records and Loose Music. This was later released as a double album as both are representations of his childhood and the effects of his unique upbringing.
In 2017 his album Kids in the Streets was released with New West Records, along with his final album in 2019, Saints of a Lost Cause.
Justin Towns Earle was a one-of-a-kind artist. His music gives us a simple glimpse into the trouble that his life embodied. As the saying goes, pain makes for good art, and I think that it would be fair to say that the man had a lot of pain behind his pen.
If you are looking for an artist to give you perspective, Justin Towns Earle's entire discography will give you the hit you need.