Meet the man behind the names

By on July 25, 2012
Justin Townes Earle

Justin Townes Earle adds Memphis-soul to his rockabilly/folk stylings. – courtesy Justin Townes Earle

Jackson Hole, Wyo.-It’s a widely known story in the singer-songwriter world that Steve Earle once said, “Townes Van Zandt is the best songwriter in the whole world, and I’ll stand on Bob Dylan’s coffee table in my cowboy boots and say that.”

Naming his son Justin Townes Earle assures that statement is not just an urban legend. Quite a name to live up to, and Justin has been making his own statements as one of the top poster men of the Americana genre in recent years. While it’s evident in his songwriting that he and his father don’t always see eye to eye, the subject of Van Zandt remains peaceful ground.

“Yeah, I agree,” Earle recently told Unpaved. “I mean I wouldn’t necessarily say that either one of them was better than the other, because I think that they do very different things, but I do think that what Townes does holds a little bit more water for me. I mean Bob Dylan, has a few songs – has several songs – that are just …they’re really great line schemes, but I don’t know what the hell he’s talking about. I always know what the hell Townes is talking about.”

Thirty-year-old Earle has experienced bouts of accomplishment and hardship in the last year. In September, he was arrested in Indianapolis for reportedly belligerent behavior at one of his shows. A month later, he leapt onstage at the famed Ryman Auditorium to accept the 2011 Americana Music Award for Song of the Year for “Harlem River Blues.” His battle with drugs and alcohol has been on and off since the age of 12, yet his music has triumphed.

I’ve long been drawn to Earle’s music because of its relationship to roots music, while craftily progressing this foundation with a voice and the lyrical capability to really make a statement. His third of five studio albums, Midnight at the Movies (2009), is arguably his best and most well rounded effort for its witty title track, and captivating dimension tales of outside characters. In the same year, he received an Americana Music Award for Emerging Artist of the Year, as well as nominations for Album of the Year and for Artist of the Year. Earle’s blues-country-folk is presented without the bells and whistles of fancy studio production, just a quality representation of the songs.

“When we start losing the roots in music we become terrible pop music, Top 40 music,” Earle told last month. “The beginning, for me, as far as singer-songwriters go, is Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly, Sonny Terry, and then moving on to Sons of the Pioneers, Emmett Miller, George Jones, Ray Price. What led me here [to New York] two years ago was chasing Woody Guthrie’s ghost. But I’ll continue to make records in Tennessee … why fly hookers into Vegas, ya know?”

On Earle’s new release, Nothing’s Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now, he takes the direction of Memphis-soul. Recorded in a converted church in Asheville, N.C., the 30-minute album was tracked completely live (with no overdubs), shedding his rockabilly bravado of previous records in favor of a raw and vulnerable sound.

Local Americana-soul/roots-rock quartet Screen Door Porch will open the show. The band released its sophomore studio album, The Fate & The Fruit, in May.

JacksonHoleLive presents Justin Townes Earle with Screen Door Porch at 5:30 p.m., Wednesday, at Snow King Ball Field. Free, all-ages.


About Aaron Davis

Aaron Davis is a decade-long writer of Music Box, a singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, member of Screen Door Porch and Boondocks, founder/host of Songwriter’s Alley, and co-founder of The WYOmericana Caravan.

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