Justin Townes Earle Opera House, Toronto ON May 12
Published May 14, 2012In any other line of work, a history of boasting about your addictions and complaining about your father, himself a giant in the industry, would limit your possibilities. But in the world of troubadour Justin Townes Earle, those tendencies are just two more bullet points on the resume.
Not that Earle needs that routine, especially since he is now sober and believed to be in a much healthier place. He probably didn't even need the very capable band backing him, because the highlights of the night were Earle's solo blues numbers. His unique style on guitar, striking the bass line with his thumb while strumming with his fingers, provides him with a full sound that easily commands the drunkest and most belligerent of rooms.
His solo cover of "My Starter Won't Start This Morning" had the urgency of a ten-piece band if several members of that group were doused in (bad) gasoline and lit aflame. Sacrilegious as it may sound, Earle does that song better than Lightnin' Hopkins, who wrote it, and his namesake Townes Van Zandt, who it is commonly associated with.
Performing songs off his latest album Nothing's Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now, Earle struck the right balance between sad songs like "Am I That Lonely Tonight" and toe-tappers like "Baby's Got a Bad Idea." Because Earle's four albums have a broad range of influences (honky tonk, folk, rockabilly, Memphis soul), the show never got stale like singer-songwriter performances so often do. Earle prides himself on having different gears he can kick into at any time. Who else could fit a song like "They Killed John Henry" in a set beside a pop song like the Replacement's "Can't Hardly Wait" so effortlessly?
It seems Earle feels he has a duty to keep the audience informed as to how things are going with his legendary father Steve Earle, both in lyrical content and in little updates between songs. Before "Mama's Eyes," he said, "My mother is my hero. She raised a little boy who grew into a mean young man, which was not her fucking job. I do love my father, but not as much as my mother. She was the one that raised me. He's a great songwriter, but..."