Singer-songerwriter Justin Townes Earle rolled through Soho Music Club in Santa Barbara last Tuesday night, where the crowd was treated to a dynamic set showcasing his new music as well as his fantastic catalog. Perhaps the best shows to go to are the ones where you know it’s just a given that you’re merely moments away from greatness. A master of honest and heartfelt lyrics, occasionally rocking folk-styled melodies, Justin Townes Earle is a recent find who I could not wait to see live.
While being the son of Steve Earle, a significant figure in Nashville’s music scene, and named after the late singer-songwriter Townes Van Zandt, Justin Townes Earle is a master storyteller in his own right. In fact, Earle’s music is so well crafted that it almost feels like you’re living in a different generation. It took all of 15 seconds for me to fall in love with his country, soul-filled sound, and since then, I’ve spent a lot of time wondering why he is not the biggest artist today, or even in his genre. Why don’t more people know of the majestic music of Justin Townes Earle? Or rather, how is it that I’ve only discovered this man a month ago? YouTube, I thank you.
In the oral tradition of story telling, Earle effectively utilizes the autobiographical form of reality. His lyrics make the places, characters and events in his songs very real, tangible and identifiable. You also can’t help but be astonished at what this man can do on a guitar.
So how was the Justin Townes Earle performance?
It was phenomenal. It may have been the best live performance I’ve seen, ever. It was genuine, intimate, and seeing Justin Townes Earle live is like nothing else. He walked out on stage and automatically began playing “Memphis in the Rain” from this year’s Nothing’s Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Now to Midnight at the Movies’ “They Killed John Henry” – a song dedicated to his grandfather – where Earle’s harmonious and gifted guitar picking has the ability to bring a smile to anyone’s face, and he throws his whole body into it as he performs.
He then introduced “Wanderin’”, which channels JTE’s biggest influence, Woody Guthrie. It’s a song that gathers all of his strengths as an artist in one place. It features his superlative guitar skills and demonstrates his capacity for compelling storytelling in the style of his own.
From there he shifts to a fun, much more honky-tonk sound of “Ain’t Waitin’” and “Baby Got A Bad Idea”. While “Am I That Lonely Tonight?” remains one of the most distinctive examples of the singer’s graceful style, spinning together country and blues, drug addiction, and Earle’s troubled relationship with his old man.
“Hear my father on the radio / Singing ‘Take Me Home Again’/
300 miles from the Carolina coast / and I’m skin and bones again”
Other highlights of the show came from “Mama’s Eyes”, “Unfortunately, Anna”, and title track “Nothing’s Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Now”, all in which moved the audience and brought the room to a silence. This showcased both the tough and romantic side of Earle’s talent, across intense, creative, and thoroughly mesmerizing material.
Justin Townes Earle’s voice can be very soft and ethereal, but also quite rough and powerful when he needs it to be. Performing an extremely exciting cover of Lightin’ Hopkins “Bad Gasoline” proved that – as it seems – effortlessly to “Ain’t Glad I’m Leavin’”. He takes on a slightly different voice for almost every song, and this alone is one of the many reasons that made his live performance so remarkable.
The Nashville native’s most-recent album, Nothings Going To Change The Way I Feel About You Now makes a great listen all the way through, but if you want to really grasp what Earle is all about, you need to see him live. He is gifted beyond words, and to my delight, he included gems like “One More Night In Brooklyn”, “Look The Other Way”, and “Halfway To Jackson”.
Earle then quickly returned for an encore with a cover of The Replacements’ “Can’t Hardly Wait,” and one last song that had the crowd feeling connected and complete with “Christchurch Woman”.
While the music was absolutely spot-on, Justin Townes Earle brought a temporary friendship or sincerity that showed a great amount of humor, grace, and his storytelling ability. I must admit timeless is a term far over-used in the music community, but Justin Townes Earle brings it some real validity. You sense he could play the same setlist ten years from now and pull off the same vibe. While his records represent the same quality, his old music is refreshing, and his new music sounds (for a lack of better term) timeless.