The Genuinely Unique Justin Townes EarleMay 18th, 2012
Justin Townes Earle – Webster Hall – May 17, 2012
There’s something just a little bit different about Justin Townes Earle from most other performers, and he proved it again last night at a still and simple show at Webster Hall. It wasn’t just how perfectly metered his band sounded or the signature way in which he eased into every word he sang. It was more about how most other younger artists performing throwback folk and country feel like they’re putting on a ruse—while Earle’s act felt thoroughly genuine.
Perhaps it’s the lineage he shares: a complex relationship with his father, Steve Earle, one he touched on in the brief intro to and the lyrics of “Mama’s Eyes,” which proved to be one of the most focused moments of the set. Or maybe it’s the earnest country-and-western way about him, allowing him to take any little topic and make the audience feel what he feels about it, like with “My Starter Won’t Start,” a song that sounds like it’s just about cars but certainly weighed much heavier in the moment.
Whatever the reason, it gave the short-but-sweet set a sense of purpose and place and masked things that could normally turn a New York City crowd against a performer. For one, nothing was that loud, as if Earle were daring the room to speak over his band’s music (although he wasn’t). From the moment Earle started the set alone with “Wanderin’,” which he dedicated to Woody Guthrie (“Wherever he is,” said the singer-songwriter), until the pedal steel–backed “Ain’t Glad I’m Leaving,” he calmly slipped into the full-band set. By then the smoke had made its way to the stage from the machine in the back, the starry Webster Hall background had been lit and the scene looked much more ready for Earle to pick things up a bit, which he did, in his own unique way. —Sean O’Kane