Band of the Day

2012.04.12

Justin Townes Earle

Mellow country-folk grounded in the best of American traditions
I am my father's son, I've never known when to shut up. I ain't foolin' no one.
lyrics from Mama's Eyes

Justin Townes Earle, son of famed singer/songwriter Steve Earle, is an award-winning Americana and folk artist out of Nashville, Tennessee. Named after country legend Townes Van Zandt, Justin struggled with drugs early in life but then began focusing on music and songwriting. His first full length album Yuma was released in 2007 on Bloodshot Records, followed by The Good Life in 2008. In 2009 Earle won an Americana Music Award for emerging artist of the year and released his third studio album Midnight at the Movies, which also received an AMA nomination for album of the year. His fourth album, Harlem River Blues was released in 2010 and earned a Song of the Year award for the titular song featured on the album. Earle tours extensively, playing shows at venues and festivals such as Grand Ole Opry, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, South By Southwest, Bonnaroo, and countless other venues.

Saying Justin Townes Earle has big boots to fill is both obvious and an understatement. Not only is he the son of outlaw country legend/actor/political activist Steve Earle, but he was named for the even more legendary country troubadour Townes Van Zandt. Unfortunately, before following his father's musical footsteps, the teenaged Townes Earle followed his father in a less productive way: drug addiction. Townes Earle had some tumultuous years growing up, struggling with addiction to drugs and alcohol much like his father famously did (who incidentally plays Walon the alcohol anonymous sponsor in the later seasons of HBO's The Wire). Now 29, Townes Earle has cleaned up, and has been releasing excellent country/folk/rock records for the last five years. His music is undoubtedly Americana, but at times it can be hard to put your finger on his influences exactly. His music seems to draw from across the roots of American music, stretching from Woody Guthrie to Johnny Cash to Bruce Springsteen to Jeff Tweedy. Unlike his firebrand of a father, Townes Earle writes mellow tracks that go down easy for the most part. The title track and first single from his new album Nothing's Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Now is a resigned track that comes from the “Don't Think Twice, It's All Right” school of gentle break up songs. Beginning with tranquil, almost sleepy lead guitar and Townes Earle's gentle, languid vocals, he soon adds softly glowing organ and slick horns, singing “when you lay down that's when it'll hurt the most/When you wake up alone and you still smell my smoke/So drink up baby try and push me out.” Maybe his best moment to date, “Harlem River Blues” sees Townes Earle stealing some of Merle Haggard's mojo with his deep, classic country vocal delivery. The track's got an uplifting gospel feel to it thanks to upbeat handclaps and church organs, but Townes Earle's repeated resolution to go down to the river is for darker purposes than baptism. With the exception of some rockin' moments, the songwriter tends to stick with relaxed, heartfelt country-folk. The sound suits him, he's got a knack for surrounding himself with players that add texture and depth to his songs, but never overcrowd it or push it in an awkward direction. He's got a long road ahead before he deserves a boot stamp in rock history next to his father and namesake, but in the meantime, the man's making some incredibly enjoyable music.