Justin Townes Earle, Union Chapel, London
Wednesday 02 February 2011
They say you can't achieve fame and fortune if you don't understand what it is to struggle. Singing of his chequered history of drugs and jail, Justin Townes Earle's unique rockabilly-meets-gospel brand of Americana certainly kept things real for this London concert.
Looking like a lanky Sunday-school kid with a careful side-parting, Earle defied his clean-cut image with up-tempo but increasingly dark tracks. Son of singer Steve Earle and namesake of Townes Van Zandt, you can hear their legacy of hard partying in his words.
"I have two recurring issues: one being incarceration, the other being chemical dependency," he told us. I'd dare to add women, booze, religious salvation (mainly the lack of) and his native Tennessee to that list. Opening with "Move Over Mama", from his new album, Harlem River Blues, he might be a 1950s dance-hall crooner who can really boogie woogie. But a closer listen reveals real grit.
The excellent "Slippin' and Slidin'" was prefaced with a little back history: "I like vodka a lot. I like to drink it in the morning and then do a little cocaine for dessert. So you see how this might throw up obstacles in my way. Like jail." From "Wanderin'" to the superb "One More Night in Brooklyn", Earle's lyrics map out a life of self-destruction, arrogance and disdain for convention.
The morose "Midnight at the Movies" and "Learning to Cry" paint a picture of a softer Earle. "Harlem River Blues", accompanied by a ukulele and a washboard, was wonderfully resonant – the chirpiest song about suicide I've ever heard.
He held us captivated, singing and strumming a series of ever-worsening lyrical confessions. After Earle boasted of the many ladies he's loved and left, someone in the row behind said huffily, "Unashamed arsehole." Maybe. It is certainly a myth he chooses to propagate. But his talent is undeniable.
GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival
TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride
FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head
Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treattv
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 'Cheeky' Nando's under fire for apparently coming onto a customer on Twitter
- 2 Saudi Arabia mosque bombing: Two volunteer security guards hailed as heroes for stopping Isis suicide bomber reaching worshippers
- 3 Playboy model April Summers speaks out about being a victim of revenge porn
- 4 There is something wrong but very right about this Bible illustration
- 5 iPhone 'effective power' text: how to be safe from iOS bug that lets people crash your phone
Jay Z's Tidal could be about to lose Beyonce's music in ultimate humiliation
Royal Academy of Arts' Tim Marlow: Bronze statue of lovers embracing at St Pancras station is a lesson in 'how not to do' public art
Britain's Hardest Grafter: Petition set up as Twitter reacts to BBC 'poverty porn' series pitting low-paid workers against each other
Britain's Got Talent 2015: Jamie Raven divides Twitter as fans expose mind-boggling magic trick
Big Brother contestant Aaron Frew removed from house for 'inappropriate behaviour' after flashing fellow contestants
EU referendum: David Cameron's rules are a 'democratic disgrace', says French-born Scottish politician set to be denied a vote
British tourists complain that impoverished boat migrants are making holidays 'awkward' in Kos
SNP fury as HS2 finds 'no business case' for taking fast train service to Scotland
A nation of inequality: How the UK is failing to feed its most vulnerable people
Australian man punched in the face for defending Muslim women from abuse on train
David Starkey 'tells Amal Clooney to shut up and stop over-promoting human rights'