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.
Review: A panoramic account of the hacking scandalbooks
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Pope Francis issues top 10 tips for happiness
- 2 Disney heiress Abigail disowns her share of family profits in West Bank company
- 3 The secret report that helps Israel hide facts
- 4 Now diplomacy has failed, boycotting Israel might be the only way we can protect the people of Gaza
- 5 Israel's propaganda machine is finally starting to misfire
Game of Thrones actress Aimee Richardson begs for 'other princess work' after Myrcella Baratheon part is recast
Cultural relations between Sydney and Melbourne soured by row over milk crate art instillation
The Walking Dead season 5 will see deaths of 'favourite characters', suggests Andrew Lincoln
Star Wars Episode 7: Simon Pegg hints at role
Big Bang Theory: Filming delayed by contract disputes over actors' pay
The secret report that helps Israel hide facts
Land for gas: Merkel and Putin discussed secret deal could end Ukraine crisis
Woman and two children killed by mob in riots over 'blasphemous' Facebook post in Pakistan
Richard Dawkins tweets: 'Date rape is bad, stranger rape is worse'
Putin is 'thuggish, dishonest and reckless', says British ambassador to US
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – Britain as others see us
- < Previous
- Next >