Justin Townes Earle
29-year-old singer-songwriter JUSTIN TOWNES EARLE has some serious musical heritage to live up to. He is the son of a multi-Grammy-winning US country singer, actor, political activist and long-time BLUESFEST favourite Steve Earle, and his middle name bears tribute to his father's musical hero, Townes Van Zandt. After his standout show at BLUESFEST 2010 its evident to see he is filling this role wonderfully as a masterful storyteller and undeniably compelling performer with an extensive catalogue of folk and country infused songs.
JUSTIN TOWNES EARLE is an anomaly. He’s tall as the day is long, all angles and elbows and a hard stare, both welcoming and deadly serious. He’s Nashville North, all set up in lower Manhattan now, just like his hero Woody Guthrie, with twang and charm intact.
His hard working earnestness has paid off, to say the least. At the 2011 Americana Music Awards Justin took out the ‘Song of The Year’ Award for ‘Harlem River Blues’. His album ‘Harlem River Blues’ was also nominated for the Album of The Year. In 2009 at the same awards he won for the Best New and Emerging Artist category. GQ Magazine named him one of the 25 best dressed men in the world in 2010. He also appeared on HBO’s Treme with his dad, troubadour Steve Earle, on whose Grammy Award-winning Townes record Justin also guests.
The aforementioned Woody Guthrie once said, “Any fool can make something complicated. It takes a genius to make it simple.” On Harlem River Blues, Justin chose the simple route. The record’s not a wall of sound produced to the rafters. It’s rockin’ and reelin’ at times, sweet and slow at others—and it’s great. Like good fried chicken, a well-cut suit and a handmade guitar, there’s heaven to be found in the beautifully crafted simpler things.
Compared to his much-lauded previous album, Midnight at the Movies, Harlem River Blues is more mature and increasingly nuanced, while still embracing the raw voice and clean sound of previous standout tracks like “Mama’s Eyes.” Harlem River Blues kicks off hot with the title track’s choir of backing singers and electric guitar, slow dances through a decrepit tenement on “One More Night in Brooklyn,” and swings à la Jerry Lee Lewis on “Move Over Mama.” “Working for the MTA” is a modern day railway ballad, embracing the labour movement in classic folk singer style over some heartbreaking pedal steel from Calexico’s Paul Niehaus. With percussive guitar, killer stand-up bass lines by Bryn Davies and a guest appearance from Jason Isbell, this record hums along like a 6 train jumpin’ the tracks and heading straight for the Tennessee state line.
Harlem River Blues straddles not only the Mason-Dixon, but time itself. As versed in Mance Lipscomb as he is in M. Ward and sporting Marc Jacobs suspenders, JUSTIN TOWNES EARLE is a man beyond eras. With Harlem River Blues, a record that’s perfect for late Indian summer nights on either the front porch or fire escape, Justin’s found yet another way to be a timeless original.
JUSTIN'S new album Nothing's Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Know out March 27 was produced by Earle alongside longtime collaborator Skylar Wilson, the 10-track album was recorded completely live with no overdubs over a 4-day period at an old converted church recording studio in Asheville, NC. Of the new record, Earle comments, “I think that it’s the job of the artist to be in transition and constantly learn more. The new record is completely different than my last one, Harlem River Blues. This time I’ve gone in a Memphis-soul direction.”
Fast becoming a festival favourite, be warned, JUSTIN TOWNES EARLE has the power to seduce an audience with his charismatic storytelling and turn curious listeners into die-hard followers with his live performances.