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'The Saint of Lost Causes': Justin Townes Earle's songs are topical, powerful

Justin Townes Earle's "The Saint of Lost Causes"

Justin Townes Earle's "The Saint of Lost Causes" on New West Records. Credit: New West Records


The Saint of Lost Causes

BOTTOM LINE Finding power in fighting lost causes and offering hope by recognizing others’ struggles

On his stunning 2017 album “Kids in the Street,” Justin Townes Earle revealed more about his personal life than he had in his entire Americana career. On his new album “The Saint of Lost Causes” (New West), Earle turns his impressive powers of observation and insightful commentary once again to the outside world.

“Then, the jobs moved out, Grandaddy died and we lost the house,” Earle sings from the point of view of a 19-year-old living in the projects of Los Angeles in “Over Alameda.” “Moved into the Jordan Downs, been here ever since.”

“Over Alameda” is his continuation of “The Grapes of Wrath,” but now California isn’t a promised land, but a trap that can’t be escaped. The manufacturing jobs at the Firestone plant that helped the narrator’s grandfather reach the middle class are long gone, but the American Dream still exists “over Alameda where the white folks live.” Earle manages to explain the complicated effects of decades of economic and social forces in a poignant, four-minute song that sounds as wistful as Glen Campbell singing “Gentle on My Mind.”

And that’s a trick that he uses often on “The Saint of Lost Causes.” He does it best on “Flint City Shake It,” telling the sad ongoing saga of the Michigan city and its lack of safe drinking water in a catchy, Buddy Holly-styled rocker. (The album’s other Flint song “Don’t Drink the Water” is bluesier, but also effective.)

Earle also addresses climate change (“Frightened by the Sound”) and the harsh realities of rural poverty (“Appalachian Nightmare”), but mostly he tries to capture the anxiety that has set in on America, regardless of where you live, and offer a bit of hope, as he does in “Mornings in Memphis.” As “The Saint of Lost Causes,” Earle still believes.

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