Justin Townes Earle, who on Thursday night turned out one of the best performances I've seen in a real long time at the Turf Club or in any other damned club, is a man after mine own heart. Why? Is it because he's a country music singer, and I like country music singers? Uh uh. In his circa-1950s math teacher suit and glasses that look like they belong in the coffin with James Manning, my long-deceased grandfather, he looked more the part of only boy to play clarinet in 6th grade band than belt buckle-wearing Waylon lookalike. Is it because he's a bad boy? Oof, he was a drug addict by his early teens. Is it because he's well-known to be the son of Steve Earle? Naw.
"This one goes out to my favorite things: fried chicken... and the ladies."
Never since I first heard First Edition's rendition of "Tulsa Turnaround" -- If a man's gonna eat fried chicken he's-a gonna get grea-say -- have I swooned so hard.
I love fried chicken too, Justin, and I'm glad you appreciate it as well as you do the ladies.
From that point on, it was clear Earle would prove to be a very engaging performer. Throughout his generous set, he maintained a look of pure enjoyment in his performance. Accompanied by an upright bass and fiddle, Earle shared a number of his originals in addition to covers by Woody Guthrie and the Carter Family (introducing that tune by saying "He's A.P. Carter! He does what he wants!" and leading me to imagine this long-dead gentleman getting in a fight with a large bleach blonde on the Springer show, yelling "Keep on the sunny side, dagnabbit!"). Late in his set, he dedicated a cover of the Replacements' "Can't Hardly Wait" to recently-deceased Cardinals bassist Chris Feinstein, and followed a brief time thereafter with a cover of Buck Owens' "Close Up the Honky Tonks," proving that the band can as adeptly make a rock hit sound their own as an old country standard.
While comparisons between the younger Earle and the elder can easily be limited, given that the younger has clearly developed a style of his own which stands on its own, two points of comparison that stick are in the earnestness of both their voices -- sounding strikingly similar at times -- and of their performances, and in their charm as storytellers. In his beautiful song "Mama's Eyes" Earle sings that he is his father's son, but that he can still see wrong from right because he's got his mama's eyes, prefacing the performance by dedicating it to his mama waiting in Nashville for him to come home, though he rarely ever does. Another set of songs he introduced by saying, "I have a knack for writing songs for ladies who don't appreciate 'em much. Maybe it's my tone." One song was positive, the next he says he wrote a little later on in the relationship, saying with tongue in cheek, "Same girl, six months later. I'll teach her to spend my money! You never wanna fuck over a songwriter 'cause I'll spread your dirty laundry over the world."
Between pure talent and a winning stage presence, there's little more acclaim I can throw Justin Townes Earle's way other than to repeat that his was the best performance I've seen in well over a year, hands-down.