Sunday, February 27, 2011

Americana Folk Revivalist With An Urban Tribe: Justin Townes Earle:

Ironically, the ticket to the Justin Townes Earle concert at the State Room in Salt Lake City I bought in September of last year was the first I'd purchased in months because the summer had been flush with free concerts in Park City as well as volunteer work at USANA Amphitheater.  When it was announced that Earle's concert was postponed, patrons were given the option for a full refund or wait for the reschedule. I waited.  And for those who didn't, their tickets were sold to others to yield a sold out show.

Lanky-lean, vested Justin Townes Earle matter-of-factly eased into the picture and onto the stage with his Americana Folk music last Thursday.  The five months between the original concert date in October until the actual delivery in February built the anticipation for what was an evening overflowing with Americana and a taste of lawlessness.

Listening to Earle feels like being painted into a hot day Old Tucson, with a desert-y, Wild West ambiance.  "Who is he?" I kept on saying to myself and everyone around me.  The voice sounded so familiar.  I finally concluded I was hearing "Walk the Line," and Earle was playing the part of Johnny Cash.  "They Killed John Henry" and others similar have an outside-the-saloon edge to them, filled with hints of ruggedness and shootouts. Earle related another brand of wildness:  his adventures in porn theaters, where he wrote songs while running errands for drug dealers. 

I'm not the biggest fan of musicians attempting to cross over into the comedian role as part of their concert delivery, but Earle's dialogue in between sets was edgy -- in a good way -- and truly funny, even in his thread about the substance abuse problems that led to delay of the concert.  He was a bit self deprecating and soberingly honest about his addiction to cocaine and alcohol: ""I love the stuff but make bad decisions when I use it," he said.

In spite of his personal challenges, Earle has emerged above the fray to win important music industry awards such as 2009 Americana Music Awards, Best New and Emerging Artist, and to release four CDs since 2007.  And when you hear his voice -- and you should -- you'll know why.
Born in Nashville, Tennessee, there's a pedigree behind Earle's style and success, and really, even his missteps.  His dad was country/rock singer Steve Earle, who like his son, had substance abuse problems and spent time in jail.  Like his father, Earle's baritone voice and his music is anything but urban vibe, which leads to the oddest fun fact of all: Earle lives not on an unmarked, secluded ranch in Arizona but in the heart of Manhattan. 

Earle smacks of cowboy poet sans country twang, and he doesn't hint that he may be eating deli sandwiches on Broadway for lunch.  He has a fiddler (Joshua Hedley) and bass (Bryn Davies) in his band ... but with his talent, he could easily carry a concert by himself.  And mid-concert, he did with such numbers as "Wanderin'" and "Won't Be the Last Time."

Real life, Earle-style led to his "Nobody Loves You When You're Down and Out" and "I Won't Cry When You Walk Out On Me."  Earle's a man who's lived a lifetime in his 29 years.  And his music reflects that, and much more.

Justin Townes Earle
Justin Townes Earle - MySpace


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