At least the mystery of Earle's absence from WFPK's Live Lunch was solved first thing. He told us he had been locked up in Indianapolis. He seemed to be feeling a little fractious still -- and possibly a little punch drunk, launching into "Move Over Mama" from his new record, Harlem River Blues, and then moving on to "They Killed John Henry" and an old Woody Guthrie song before telling the rest of his adventure after the previous night's show.
[Read our interview with Justin Townes Earle, "A man of style and substance."]
Needless to say, Earle gave us a much more colorful version, but in a nutshell: there was a misunderstanding at the venue wherein the proprietor decided to dock the band some of their money, and when Earle went to discuss the matter with him, he didn't take it too kindly. A fracas broke out between the venue folks and the band, leading to assault and battery charges being filed, and Earle's unscheduled stay in the holding tank. Well, if that won't get your show off to a rollicking start, what will? And a fine show it was with Earle ambling around the stage picking a mean guitar and Josh Hedley providing great support on fiddle and backup vocals. (The mystery that wasn't quite solved was the absence of the bass player; Earle said only that she was "AWOL.")
Earle has a loose-limbed grace and easy manner on stage, trading quips with the audience with a sly grin, but never losing track of the music. Off-stage dramas aside, he's a mighty serious musician, well-schooled in classic folk and country traditions. When he pays homage to the Carter Family or Woody Guthrie or Townes Van Zandt, he's not just dropping names -- what he reveres in these forerunners seems to have been thoroughly absorbed and comes flowing back out purely and keenly felt, whether he's covering one of their songs or channeling their essence into his own creations. His gospel take, "Wanderin'" is one of those, and the melancholy "Roger's Park," which he closed the show with, stands companionably beside his rendition of Van Zandt's "Rex's Blues."
The appreciative crowd called out for favorites and Earle delivered some of them, cracking that since he was now a free man, he would do whatever-the-hell he wanted to on stage. Luckily, his choices were good ones. He took a solo Blues guitar break with a little Lightning Hopkins and Mance Lipscomb, as well as a soulful a capella version of Randy Newman's "Louisiana 1927." And on this night, "Mama's Eyes" was particularly relevant -- he may have mama's eyes and smile, but there is no doubt he has his daddy's rambunctious spirit.
Jessica Lea Mayfield opened for Earle.
Justin Townes Earle