A laid-back, but earnest album
Justin Townes Earle’s latest album—The Saint of Lost Causes—is anything but a lost cause. Through its 12 songs, Earle takes listeners on a tour of his skills as a song-writer and student of music. He offers a variety of sounds and styles throughout the album.
The album’s title track is a meditation on cruelty. Earle implores the listener to “Just pray to the saint of Lost Causes” because “it’s a cruel world/ but it ain’t hard to understand.” Despite the callousness of this song’s narrator, this song is the bleakest on the album. Even “Saint of Lost Causes” though with its “wolf in shepherd’s clothes” and “cruel world” is steeped in an irony that Earle imparts in the song. Earle as the song-writer maintains distance from the narrator of the song. Earle balances the tone of the lyrics with a cool mellowness in the guitar playing and the songs drum beat which grooves more than you’d expect from the lyrics.
Earle moves on to a more upbeat tune for “Ain’t Got No Money” even though he manages to write lyrics with a similarly sad bearing. The song is one of the album’s most strongly country. The lack of money is a common theme for country songs, which often deal with it in a similar nonchalant manner. Earle employs harmonica and a thumping drum set to keep the song plugging along while he chants “Give me some money/ I ain’t got no money.”
Earle manages to be both laid back and thorough in his songs. “Don’t Drink the Water” is a great example of this. Its easy guitar riffs and harmonica solo similar to “Ain’t Got No Money” provide the perfect stage for Earle to sing his wisdom.
Earle is clearly well immersed in country music, and he imbues it with elements of folk throughout the album. Earle brings the blues into the album as well with “Flint City Shake It,” a song that wants you to dance. It has a call and response section and a great walking bass line. The song’s guitar solo brings to mind old blues guitar playing and provides a nice contrast in the middle of the album. Despite its length, however, the album doesn’t drag on. Earle finds various ways to use his mellow voice to great success.
The final song on the album is entitled “Talking to Myself.” This is the album’s most personal song and shows a more vulnerable side of Earle, but he has spent the past 45 minutes endearing himself to us with his charm that the personal turn feels a refreshing way to conclude. “These are things I only say when I’m talking to myself” he laments to us, who certainly relate to having those thoughts.