It's not easy to live up to a celebrated namesake — especially two of them. But Justin Townes Earle manages to make a name for himself by carving his own niche out of the country created by father Steve Earle and godfather Townes Van Zandt, plus a slew of other honky-tonk masterminds like Jimmie Rodgers and George Jones. Earle the younger's debut, this year's The Good Life, is full of two-stepping tracks that entice listeners to turn even their bedrooms into a dance floor. "Hard Livin'," "What Do You Do When You're Lonesome?" "South Georgia Sugar Babe" and "Ain't Glad I'm Leavin'" match a young heartbreaker's later-honey sass with jumpy acoustic strumming and twirl-friendly lap-steel draws. But Earle also has a softer, more reflective side: "Lonesome and You" and "Who Am I To Say?" prove even the hardest cowboys have a tender heart. For the '80s generation that grew up hearing KIKK hacks turn lap-steel treasures and sawdust swing into overworked, overwrought, oversexed, over-popped radio-ready ditties, Earle chimes in with a refreshing sincerity. He may be a student of the legends — both by birthright and by choice — but he's far from a mere Xerox of their greatest tricks.
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