Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit, Justin Townes Earle | Double Door | Rock, Pop, Etc | Chicago Reader
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Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit, Justin Townes Earle 

When: 2009
Price: $16
On his fine new album, Midnight at the Movies (Bloodshot), Justin Townes Earle doesn’t sound too burdened by the twin legacies embedded in his name—his father, Steve Earle, named him after Texas troubadour Townes Van Zandt. Though he draws from the same pool of honky-tonk, folk, country blues, and even Tin Pan Alley that those fellows do (or did), he doesn’t labor to imbue his music with Van Zandt’s poetic nihilism or his father’s political fire. He’s no groundbreaker, and seems happy with modest songs that tell simple stories about romance, work, and getting by. He sounds more comfortable in his own skin than most singer-songwriters working similar turf, many of whom seem so worried about naturalness and authenticity that they come across studied and stiff. He mixes and matches different strains of American roots music, creating a hybrid that’s personal but never unfamiliar, and tweaks traditional tunes just enough to make them his own—on “They Killed John Henry,” for instance, he adds a verse about his grandfather to bring the song closer to home. Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit headline. —Peter Margasak

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