“Who is that mysterious woman hanging on the shoulder of Steve Earle’s son?” That is the question some were asking when Justin Townes Earle released his first LP called The Good Life in 2008. That mysterious woman turned out to be fiddle player Amanda Shires, who as a young prodigy was once a member of Bob Wills’ legendary backing band The Texas Playboys, and is now known as Amanda Isbell, a renown solo artist and wife of Jason Isbell.
Subsequently every Justin Townes Earle album cover has featured Earle himself and a pretty woman somewhere in close vicinity to him, and just exactly who these pretty women are is part of the fun and mystery. But Justin Townes Earle broke from this tradition on his latest record Single Mothers and put someone else on the cover instead of himself. There’s a girl on the cover yet again, holding the hand of the male protagonist, but that’s not Justin Townes Earle. Or is it?
Prodigies in the music world usually come in the form of instrumentalists, like Amanda Shires. It is rare to find a prodigy whose passion is songwriting, and even more rare to find a young songwriter who can garner acceptance and notoriety from the established music world at such a young age. Generally speaking, younger artists just don’t have the type of bevy of experiences to pull from to enthrall the listener with compelling sentiments, and they just don’t have the cognitive capacity to understand the subtly and nuance necessary to engage an audience in true storytelling.
And then there’s Sammy Brue.
Sammy Brue is the 13-year-old songwriter whose defiant gaze and long locks reaching out beneath a wide-brimmed black hat landed on the cover of Single Mothers. Sammy is originally from Portland, OR, and in his very short career has already made friends with Justin Townes Earle, Joshua Black Wilkins (who was also the photographer who shot the cover, and Justin Townes Earle’s other covers), and many other songwriters of the wider country and Americana communities. Just in the last couple of years, Sammy Brue has opened for Asleep At The Wheel, Hayes Carll, John Moreland, and Lukas Nelson to name a few. His father bought him a guitar for Christmas in 2011 after the family moved to Utah to keep him occupied, and he wrote his first song at the age of ten called “The Woody Guthrie Song.” Since then he’s learned material from legends such as Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan, and more contemporary like Justin Townes Earle and Gillian Welch. He’s also written over a dozen original songs.
Sammy Brue has just released an EP through NoiseTrade of all original songs and is working on a second one, and will be performing at the Americana Music Conference coming up this week.
The Single Mothers cover was shot in Dragon Park in Nashville, which is park of Fannie Mae Dees Park in the city’s southwest portion. “Justin grew up playing there,” Sammy Brue tells me, which is further validation towards my initial theory that Sammy is supposed to represent a younger Justin Townes Earle, who grew up with a single mother after Steve Earle left the home.
As for who the girl is, “I only met that girl the one time,” Sammy says. Joshua Black Wilkins didn’t have much more insight into the cover concept either. “It was all [Justin’s] idea,” Wilkins says.
But I think I know enough. I’ll take the suggestion of Sammy Brue from the cover and call it good. Who the girl is, and the other particulars, I prefer they remain a mystery. Because sometimes the things you don’t know make for the best art.
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