Review: Justin Townes Earle, April 22, 2009, The Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto
Almost everyone I talked to had the same reaction when I told them I was going to see Justin Townes Earle (JTE), son of Steve Earle (SE). They grimaced. Most of my friends are in their late-20s and early-30s and are only family with SE's more recent work and political activism. And a lot of them are writing off JTE simply because they think his music will be SE 2.0.
I have to admit that I was (am?) way late to the SE party. Many of my music snob friends tells me that SE hasn't released a good album since Transcendental Blues (2000). I only have SE's discography from 2000 on. In fact, my buddy Rick reminded me that I saw SE with the Del McCoury Band in St. Louis in 1999, but I told him that he was mistaken. Then I found my ticket stub (I save every ticket stub of every live music show and sports event I have ever been to). I don't even remember going to that show! (D'oh!)
My point is that the fact the JTE happens to have a famous musician father had absolutely no influence on me at all. To me, JTE is a musician who put out a killer EP in 2007 (Yuma), and an even better album in 2008 (The Good Life). He might as well be Joe Guitarist from Nashville (and there are lots of Joe Guitarists from Nashville).
I arrived at the Horseshoe by myself (as usual) about a half hour before JTE took the stage. I could not believe how dead the place was! There were maybe 100 people there, max. (350 capacity). The only time I have ever seen fewer people at a Horseshoe show was for the criminally under-attended Chris Knight show in 2007. What the hell people? JTE was roaming around in his red gingham shirt, chatting with people, having his photo taken, signing records. He's a real tall, skinny dude, and clearly did not inherit his father's physique.
JTE took the stage with his sidekick, the incredibly talented multi-instrumentalist Cory Younts. These two characters spent the next 90 minutes entertaining the heck out of me. JTE told stories between each song and engaged the crowd. He mocked Younts, callin' him "Hillbilly," and the two of them played off of each other. Between JTE's finger-picking guitar playing, and Younts blasting me away on the banjo, mandolin, multiple harmonics, and backup vocals, I was in country music heaven! The duo easily switched between classic country, bluegrass, blues, gospel, and folk. JTE commented (paraphrasing), "Hillbilly music is great because you can do two songs in the same key back to back with almost the same lick."
A very poignant moment came when JTE introduced the song "Mama's Eyes." After acknowledging his famous father, he said that his mama is Carol Ann Earle, and he was "raised by the back of her hand," and that he will "always be my mama's boy." His classic style is certainly very different from his dad's country-rock music. I'm hoping that more people start appreciating JTE as an artist in his own right, and not make a judgment on his music based on his old man's records.
1. They Killed John Henry - Midnight at the Movies (2009)
2. Ain't Glad I'm Leavin' - The Good Life (2008)
3. I Don't Care - Yuma EP (2007)
(Dedicated to Woodie Guthrie)
4. What Do You Do When You're Lonesome - The Good Life
(Some people were actually two-steppin' during this number)
5. Mama's Eyes - Midnight at the Movies
6. New song
7. The Ghost of Virginia - Yuma
8. Someday I'll Be Forgiven For This - Midnight at the Movies
9. I'm Leaving You This Lonesome Song - Carter Family Cover
10. South Georgia Sugar Babe - The Good Life
11. Hard Livin' - The Good Life
12. So Different Blues - Mance Lipscomb Cover
13. Turn Out My Lights - The Good Life
14. New song "Hillbilly Gospel"
15. Hesitation Blues - Traditional
16. What I Mean to You - Midnight at the Movies
17. Can't Hardly Wait - Midnight at the Movies, Replacements Cover
(Introduced the song by saying that these guys from Minnesota, "aren't hillbillies, but they act like them.")
18. Far Away in Another Town - The Good Life
19. Halfway to Jackson - Midnight at the Movies
20. The Good Life - The Good Life
21. You Can't Leave - Yuma
22. Poor Fool - Midnight at the Movies
23. The Train that Carried My Girl from Town - Doc Watson Cover
24. Walk Out - Midnight at the Movies
25. Down in the Valley - Traditional
(Mentioned that they recently recorded a version of this song with Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit for the upcoming documentary Coal Country)
26. Close Up the Honky Tonks - Buck Owens Cover
Buy: Midnight at the Movies (2009)
Buy: The Good Life (2008)
Both of theses albums, as well as the Yuma EP, are fan-freakin'-tastic. Pick them up pronto!
JTE and Cory Younts do a really nice set for Daytrotter. I also found a killer JTE live solo set from September 2008 at the Hear Ya blog.