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In concert: Justin Townes Earle

Justin Townes EarleJustin Townes Earle -- son of Steve Earle, namesake of Townes Van Zandt, charmed the Birchmere audience Sunday night. (All photos by Kyle Gustafson/FTWP)

By Juli Thanki

When he last came to town in 2009, Justin Townes Earle played to an audience that numbered in double digits. Not so this time around: while the show wasn’t sold out, it was mighty crowded for Oscar Sunday. Clad in suit and bowtie, hunched over the microphone, the rail-thin Earle was equal parts boy next door and charming rake as he sang about his mama and girls who’ve done him wrong. Used to playing dives, the Tennessee native claimed that the Birchmere made him “feel like a pig in the parlor,” but his retro sound and impeccable showmanship captivated the room.

Justin Townes Earle

He’s only 28, but Earle (the son of Steve Earle, and named for Townes Van Zandt) has the soul of a bluesman three times his age — and he’s got the guitar skills to match. Fiercely played selections from Mance Lipscomb and Lightnin’ Hopkins rounded out a two-hour set that ranged from “What Do You Do When You’re Lonesome,” a classic-sounding original reminiscent of Ray Price to a rootsy cover of Replacements’ “Can’t Hardly Wait.” He recently parted ways with longtime sideman Cory Younts — and at one point snapped at an audience member, “He was fired; let’s not talk about it” — but Earle’s current backup, fiddler Josh Hedley and bassist Bryn Davies, more than made up for Younts’s departure with sweet harmonies and high energy.

Encoring with a toe-tapping take on Buck Owens’s “Close Up the Honky Tonks” and sparse suicide ballad “Yuma,” Earle proved he’s one of alt-country’s most dynamic artists. Sunday would have been legendary songwriter Van Zandt’s 66th birthday. Chances are he was looking down on his namesake with pride.

Justin Townes Earle

Justin Townes Earle

Justin Townes Earle

By David Malitz  |  March 8, 2010; 2:24 PM ET
Categories:  In concert  | Tags: Justin Townes Earle  
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Next: Week ahead: Andrew W.K. parties early, collaboration-crazy albums from Gorillaz and Broken Bells


Spot on--one of the best shows I've seen in a long time.

Posted by: missanna | March 8, 2010 4:09 PM | Report abuse

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