Growing up as a kid in Nashville can’t be easy. Growing up with a father and step-mother who are country and folk mega-stars and bearing the name of one of the genre pioneering legends is a whole new battle. Perhaps then, the nights of narcotics and incarceration and the visits to rehab are all just part of some natural journey for Justin Townes Earle, a journey that has brought him all the way to Belfast where he now sits with a can of Red Bull, an acoustic guitar and an open heart.
Leading up to this main event we’ve been entertained by occasional Chrissie Hynde collaborator James Walbourne who’s songs mostly taken from ‘The Hill’ veer away from the country cliché while still staying true to the Americana roots. He cuts a lean figure, suited, booted and chatting at ease with the Sunday night crowd and in that way he’s the ideal precursor to Earle.
At 6’5 Justin Townes Earle is physically as big as his talent and hype hint at. His attitude is brash Nashville no messing but delivered with a hint of New York City suave. It’s impossible not to listen and to find yourself forming little relationships with the protagonists of the pieces. He talks openly about his family, telling us his mother follows him on Facebook while adding that she’s a woman who packs enough of a punch to detach a man’s retina. Even more open for discussion is his own battle with drink and drugs which has left him with a few emotional scars and a couple of albums of great country songs.
Tonight is mostly about the latest record ‘Harlem River Blues’, which essentially tells the tale of Earle’s relocation to NYC. The arrangements are sparse on the album and on stage it’s only Justin, a guitar and a whole lot of soul. The title track and “One More Night In Brooklyn” are stand out tracks in a set of Americana of the highest standard along with a cover of Springsteen’s ‘Racing In The Street’. The nod to Springsteen is not a surprise but there are clear comparisons to be made also to the honesty and lyrical genius of the likes of Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan.
Despite the stories of hell-raising and chemical fuelled rage we’ve become well versed in, tonight we are seeing a mild mannered, slightly eccentric and achingly honest story teller at the top of his game.
‘Harlem River Blues’ is currently available on Bloodshot Records.
Review by: Scott Edgar
Buy CD: Harlem River Blues