Sobriety clearly agrees with Mr Townes Earle as he takes a full house on a relaxed tour through his career highlights with some unexpected detours along the way.
The highly intelligent Townes Earle has been refreshingly open about his struggles with serious substance abuse, and in the past it has led to gigs resembling a war zone, but not tonight.
Proceedings were opened in some style by Nashville songwriter for hire Andrew Combs who delivered some very smart acoustic reworkings of tunes from his new album All These Dreams, and the simple arrangements actually improved the recorded versions. The clever storytelling in Pearl suggests it won’t be long before Combs will be headlining this place.
You have to admire an artist like Townes Earle who with two recent critically acclaimed new albums to flog doesn’t just knock them out in order, but instead just plays what the hell he wants.
An early highlight was White Gardenias recalling the short life of Baltimore girl Billie Holiday which given Townes Earle’s history is poignant. A version of They Killed John Henry, from Midnight at the Movies, is thrown in for his grandpa who, he says, passed his storytelling gifts to Townes Earle and his old man.
His latest record Absent Fathers is at times a brutally honest look at parts of his life after his old man walked out when he was two, and the sublime When The One You Love Loses Faith in You benefits from his more bluesy on the road arrangement showing off his unique fingerpicking style. As Townes Earle observes Mama’s Eyes always gets his mom weeping when she comes to see him – much to his discomfort – but given the sentiment not surprising.
Townes Earle is nothing if not unpredictable dredging up a fine cover of The Replacements mighty Can’t Hardly Wait, and he is certainly a kindred spirit of those hellraisers. He also takes on the Mac’s Dreams finding something new in a song constantly played on the local radio of his youth.
Rock and roll should have an edge, but when it is dulled by drugs then it is no fun for anyone. That’s a lesson Justin Townes Earle has learnt the hard way, but one that has paid off as he has finally realised his potential as an artist.
One More Night in Brooklyn
Memphis in the Rain
Worried Bout The Weather
Call Yo Mama
My Baby Drives
Ain’t Glad I’m Leaving
Today and a Lonely Night
Can’t Hardly Wait
Harlem River Blues.