LIVE: Justin Townes Earle @ The Egg, 3/4/15
Review by Greg Haymes
As one of the pioneers of Americana – long before the name of the musical genre was even coined – Steve Earle casts a long shadow. But even though Justin Townes Earle proclaimed, “I ain’t foolin’ no one, I am my father’s son,” in his devastating solo rendition of “Mama’s Eyes” at The Egg in Albany on Wednesday evening, there was no denying that he’s his own man. He escaped that shadow, and he’s enjoying his time in the sun.
Backed only by Paul Niehaus on electric guitar and pedal steel guitar, Justin Townes Earle easily won over the crowd at the Swyer Theatre on his own terms. “I’m very mouthy, and I don’t care what people think,” he declared after his opening number “Round the Bend,” a sentiment he reiterated in “Mama’s Eyes” with the lyric, “I’ve never known when to shut up.” And along the way on Wednesday, he tossed out quite a few stinging barbs, including some aimed at the current state of country music, audience requests, Memphis and, yes, even his father.
But it wasn’t his lineage or his between-tune patter that made his 80-minute concert such a memorable night. Plain and simple, it was his songs. They cut to the bone, and he sang them with a rare emotional honesty. He doesn’t do “happy” songs. Rather he drew on his hardscrabble life experiences, the bulk of his set culled from his two most recent (and aptly titled) albums, Single Mothers and Absent Fathers, both released within the past six months.
As he referenced before his solo version of “When the One You Love Loses Faith,” he owes to debt to jazz great Billie Holiday for his vocal delivery, often lagging behind the beat that he pumped out with his particularly percussive acoustic guitar attack. And he paid back that debt with his haunting tribute to Holiday, “White Gardenias,” dressed up with some exquisite pedal steel work by Niehaus.
The lean and lanky 33-year-old tunesmith cranked up the tempo for the roadhouse rockabilly of “My Baby Drives,” the Hank Williams-inspired country blues of “Ain’t Glad I’m Leavin'” and his chugging closer, “Memphis in the Rain,” but he was at his best conjuring the undeniable ache of “Christchurch Woman,” “Am I That Lonely Tonight” and the staring-into-the-abyss final encore of “Harlem River Blues.”
Gill Landry of the Old Crow Medicine Show opened the show with an impressive 35-minute, 11-song solo set deeply rooted in his native Louisiana, lyrically and emotionally, if not musically.
Armed with his 1930s-vintage acoustic guitar, he showcased five tunes from his brand-spankin’ new self-titled album, including the jazz-tinged love ballad “Emily” and the dark and mournful “A Funeral in My Heart,” fueled by some crackling finger-picking.
Excerpt from Kirsten Ferguson’s review at The Daily Gazette: “‘Unlucky for my parents, I’m very mouthy and I don’t care what people think,’ Earle continued, leading into the cutting, broken-home ballad ‘Single Mothers,’ which contained the lines, ‘Absent father/ Oh, never offer even a dollar/ And he doesn’t seem to be bothered/ By the fact that he’s forfeited his rights to his own.’ From a retribution standpoint, it probably doesn’t get much better than to follow in your own father’s footsteps as a songwriter, gain acclaim, and use your public forum to make your feelings known about his parental shortcomings. But Justin Townes Earle is much more than that, too. He’s got his own musical style and prodigious songwriting gifts that he displayed to a transfixed crowd over an 80-minute set filled with well-constructed tales, both poignant and gritty.”
JUSTIN TOWNES EARLE SET LIST
Round the Bend
Worried Bout the Weather
Ain’t Glad I’m Leavin’
Call Ya Momma
One More Night in Brooklyn
They Killed John Henry (solo)
Learning to Cry (solo)
Mama’s Eyes (solo)
When the One You Love Loses Faith (solo)
My Baby Drives
Am I That Lonely Tonight
Memphis in the Rain
Today and a Lonely Night
Harlem River Blues
GILL LANDRY SET LIST
Never Coming Here Again
Between Piety and Desire
A Funeral in My Heart
Waiting for Your Love
James Alley Blues (Rabbit Brown)
Take This Body