Singer, songwriter, often compelling live performer, a man with a few troubles, son-of, named-after, partner and father – Justin Townes Earle was long, lean and talented. Now he’s dead, at 38.
Wind Back Wednesday lobs up at his second gig in Sydney, in 2009, when the memory of his first was so strong it had pulled in a room full of devotees and those about to be converted.
Dammit, he had a hell of a lot more to give.
JUSTIN TOWNES EARLE
Annandale Hotel, October 8
There was no (room for) movement at the station, or in this case the squeeze-in-watch-your-elbow-ouch-sorry-mate Annandale Hotel, for the word had passed around since November that Justin Townes Earle was the business.
It looked like each of us who had seen Earle last year had gone out and strong-armed a friend or two and said, the guy can sing, can yarn, can write a cracking tune and isn’t afraid of dipping into roots Americana wherever it catches his eye, you have to be there next time.
(I suspect the word of mouth will be doing double time over Earle’s support, the muscular country wits, Wagons, before their November shows. They’re quality.)
Newcomers to Earle would have seen what we were talking about from the heel-and-toe get go. The finger-picked slice of the mountains, They Killed John Henry, and the swinging Ain't Glad I'm Leaving, take up residence in both droll and biting, lightly delivered and leaving a mark, old school and new boy sharp. Even with the horrible unbalanced sound (there’s one acoustic guitar and one voice to handle, how hard can it be?) it was a fine start.
Earle, who has thrown away the pomade and now sports a close cut and nerd specs which make him look like a lanky hillbilly Proclaimer, begins and ends his shows with "my name is Justin Townes Earle from Nashville, Tennessee”. Within four or five songs you know that’s not even half the geographical story as he adds Hank Williams and Woody Guthrie to the influences, heads down to Georgia, finds an urban ballad in Midnight At The Movies and offers up a little bit of Elvis via Texas ("every good southern songwriter has to have a song for his momma,” he tells us) with Mama’s Eyes.
We heard that song in early form last year when its lyrical sting – as he distinguishes his mother’s influences from the less complimentary references to his father – was tangier than the more benevolent tone this time around.
I suspect there’ll be even more of us next time wondering what he’s going to do with newly unveiled songs such as the charmer whose chorus finds him “waiting for a Christchurch woman in the rain”.
Tell your friends. And get there early.