Fans of the early Justin Townes Earle might be disappointed in the work that fills "Absent Fathers," his 2015 album that shows the once reckless outlaw-wannabe has grown up past the anger and found a home in therapeutic songwriting. For the rest of listeners, however, it's a cathartic and thought-provoking journey through his atonement, not with his muddy past, but instead with his own pain.
Earle's voice hints of the same grittiness found in Black Keys front man Dan Auerbach's singing, but it contains far more emotion. Instrumentally, the album is made up of the traditional country and blues arrangements, but with a rock-and-roll flair that echoes in "Call Ya Momma" and "Round the Bend."
Naming the follow up to his 2014 album, "Single Mothers," with a similar title "Absent Fathers" isn't a clever gimmick. As much as Earle's career has followed that of his father, American rock and country singer Steve Earle, it's clear that the artist hasn't forgiven his dad for walking out when he was only a toddler. "Someone will pay for the way you lie," he sings in "Someone Will Pay."
It's a song with a bouncy beat that promises the singer doesn't get angry but does get even - a dichotomy between beats and lyrics that also appears in "When the One You Love Loses Faith," which sounds like a ballad played as the slow dance at a 1950s school social, but the lyrics explore heartache that stems from more than lost romance.
The album isn't entirely about loss, even if the title suggests it's a collection devoted to calling out Steve Earle. "Round the Bend" and the final track, "Looking for a Place to Land" are about self-discovery and making it alone - country anthems that inspire listeners in a way even failed-country artist-turned-pop-queen Katy Perry couldn't with "Firework" in 2010.
But the most poignant song in the album is also the most foreboding. In "Day and Night," Earle sings, "No more words, there's nothing left to say." Here's hoping that's not true, as this album sets him up as a voice and writer to keep an eye on as he continues to grow.