Star rating – 8/10
The latest tour from Justin Townes Earle was extremely eagerly anticipated (by me at least). I first saw him in January 2011 at the Deaf Institute and fair to say he blew me, and the rest of the small but incredibly lucky audience, away.This time around JTE was in a more pensive and down beat mood, less charming chats but the same fabulous musical quality nevertheless.
He bares his soul for all the world to see, and like the very best in the country music canon, has considerable heartache, not to mention addictions, to draw upon. His latest album Nothing's Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Now is more than upholding the very high musical standards he has set for himself. And we were treated to lots of brilliant tracks including Maria, Unfortunately Anna, and Look the Other Way. This last one is a particular gem and JTE recently performed it on the Letterman show in the States.
Many of his songs are rooted with a strong sense of place, like Christchurch Woman, about his time in New Zealand. He movingly dedicated it to the people of that currently devastated city in their efforts to get back on their feet after the earthquake. Or Harlem River Blues – always a high point of any JTE set, and he did not disappoint with it this time. These both come from his astonishingly good 2011 Harlem River Blues album, equally worth checking out if you haven’t by now.
He performed as a 3 piece band this time, rather than going solo as on his previous UK tour. His songs are honest, fearless and often raw, and reflect his ever always changing and evolving musicalstyle. His influences are clear - he cites Woody Guthrie, Hank Williams et al -he does not cite his father Steve Earle but then he doesn’t need to. He talks (and hauntingly sings - in Mama’s Eyes) about how his father abandoned his mother when he was just 2, and how that shaped, or more accurately misshaped his growing up. Judging by some of his lyrics he may not have totally taken the lesson about how not to treat women into his own adult experiences, but then that wouldn’t make for a good country song.
The highpoint for me was his rendition of Am I That Lonely Tonight – it is achingly sad with its lyrics exposing such vulnerability and pain. This was another transfixing and extraordinary performance by JTE. But just a note to would-behecklers, it’s not clever or polite to ask him to play one of his father’s songs, as he angrily retorted – ‘he doesn’t play my songs and I don’t play his’.He is all about Justin Townes Earle, and believe me that is more than enough.