It’s probably safe to say that Justin Townes Earle is safe from being popped by the spirit of Hank Williams. The vision of ghostly vengeance came in a mid-show commentary about the current state of the country music scene.
“If Hank Williams . . . were alive today, he’d walk down Music Row and pop a cap in the ass of everyone he saw. . . There’s a place for [this music], like there’s a place for Bon Jovi, but it’s not country. They need to call it something else.”
Like many other excellent current acts out there today, Justin Townes Earle’s music is hard to pin down or label. He would be pleased about that. “I’m not country just because I have a pedal steel in the band.” But yes, even though he would be reluctant to label the music as country, it’s a safe bet that he’d be safe from angry ghosts of country music past.
He had a lot to say throughout Wednesday night’s show at The Neptune, peppering the show with his dry humor and stories about his songs. Family was a theme throughout the evening, with songs about his mother (and mothers in general), and a song about his grandpa.
Family, of course, looms large with Earle – the son of Steve Earle, and godson of Townes van Zandt, it’s hard not to think about the songwriting legacy that he carries with him. But any comparisons to be made must easily be favorable, as Earle is a wonderful songwriter and musician in his own right.
Many of the songs were written specifically for others: “They Killed John Henry” for his grandpa, his “Mama’s Eyes” ( a gorgeous track with a pedal steel highlight) for his mother. There was even a song for Billie Holliday, written specifically not for the “junkie who was a singer, or the singer who was a junkie, but . . . the little girl from Baltimore” (“White Gardenias”).
He did warn that even for his “couple of songs about mommas,” his songs are not to be taken as diaries. And he does not take requests (“I used to play for tips and I’d take requests. Now, I don’t play for tips. And I don’t take requests.”) But, he did make an exception for his wife, who wanted to hear “Learning to Cry.”
Opening bands The Maldives (or at least two of The Maldives) and Raleigh’s American Aquarium started off the evening with their folk and country blend, with Earle and his three-piece band skillfully weaving the songs into a tuneful night of storytelling.