APPROPRIATELY ENOUGH, The Saint of Lost Causes —the new Justin Townes Earle album—has an Orthodox icon of St. Jude on the cover. In Catholic lore, St. Jude is the patron saint of lost causes and desperate cases. But if a person can still turn to a saint for intercession, the cause isn’t entirely lost. The desperate act of prayer implies at least a sliver of hope for grace and mercy, and that’s mostly where the people in Earle’s new batch of songs are: down to their last desperate prayer but still hoping.
At the beginning of the album, in the title track, Earle lays it out, singing: “Now it’s a cruel world / But it ain’t hard to understand / You got your sheep, got your shepherds / Got your wolves amongst men.” Over the course of the next 11 songs, we see the world mostly from the point of view of the sheep. We hear from some fracked-out citizens in “Don’t Drink the Water” who are growing increasingly restless as some oil company hack keeps claiming that their poisoned land and water, and the occasional earthquake, are all an “act of God.” Later, in “Flint City Shake It,” a streetwise Michigander fills us in on how General Motors assassinated his still-resilient hometown. Then there’s the junkie desperado of “Appalachian Nightmare” who hopes God can forgive him at the moment of his death.