In spite of the old Surgeon General-like warning among industry insiders about musical fathers and sons (“like father, like hell”), several sons of important Americana figures seem to be rapidly coming well into their own. Longtime left-of-center Nashville writer Mark Germino, whose songwriting notches include cuts by Johnny Cash and Emmylou Harris, says of two of the sons, “The music traditions Dustin Welch and Justin Earle have come to understand and absorb do nothing but accent their own rapidly evolving styles. Neither one allows their knowledge to bind them as slaves to anyone else's recorded past. That's the beauty of it."
Between Earle’s legitimate heartbreak Dust Bowl drawl and the sawdust co-producer R.S. Field (with Steve Poulton) throws on the studio floor, there are parts of this record that could make your old country grandpa do a double take. “Hard Livin’” (“it’s hard livin’ lovin’ you”) has all the rounder sass of a Jimmie Rodgers classic and the suggestive dance hall swing of legendary Texas bands like Bob Wills or Hank Thompson. Josh Hedley’s fiddle must’ve been resined with West Texas dust and Oklahoma moonshine.
One of the most important traits of the record is that old hand Field actually convinces these young bucks to slow it way down and find the old time Western shuffle dance grooves that originally defined honky tonk. The like-father, like-son part of the equation comes when Justin Townes drops an introspective folk essay like “Who Am I to Say” that says he’s not only paid attention to dad’s work, but he’s lived his subject enough to know something about it and can deliver it in a terse poem that leaves the listener knowing something more than he did when the song began.
Steve Earle vibes abound on “Far Away In Another Town,” but this is hardly a negative since both the song and performance would be compelling no matter the lineage. With flippant choruses like “Roses are red, violets are little, baby why do you always talk in a riddle,” this is not only one of the great Americana albums of the year, but one of the most well written. Earle plays Warehouse Live June 16. He’ll be doing an in-store at Cactus Records at 6 pm.
Dustin Welch, Whisky Priest EP
The son of longtime Nashville vet Kevin Welch is putting the finishing touches on a full-length release, but for now he’s issued a five-track EP of the material. These amped-up tracks indicate the young man has listened to his fair share of Drive By Truckers and Bare Jr., for sure.
Closer to home, he’s much more under the spell of father Kevin’s Dead Reckoners than dad’s current Welch-Kane-Kaplan project. This is a young man who has pondered pen, paper and whiskey with writers like Germino, Dave Olney and Cadillac Holmes, and emerged a brave of the tribe. Welch does lots of sideman touring and there’s a good reason -- he doesn’t play, he attacks. Welch will be opening for Mark Germino at Anderson Fair May 31 and will also accompany Germino on banjo.
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Young Mr. Young harkens back to his father’s out-of-print twang-filled early ‘70s material that set a high bar for the emerging Outlaws. With Thomm Jutz producing and playing most of the guitars, there is a charming sparseness to the electricity that pays homage to father Steve Young’s early work as well as that of other artists of the era.
Tracks like “The Window Song” and “Greed is the Creed” have Dylan influences embedded throughout, while “Streets of Caen” and “She Don’t Like Clowns” have all of father Steve’s common folks mysticism and born-on-the-road gravitas.
Whether he’s all mixed up in “I Don’t Know What I Want” or taking surly swipes at Bush and Cheney in “Peanut Butter and Daisy Cutters,” like his father Jubal Lee lays on huge servings of humanity, decency and dark-of-night emotion. This is one of the most overlooked Americana records out there right now.
-- William Michael Smith