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    Bit to Do

    Justin Townes Earle
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    A good time was had by all at Headliners last night. Well, except maybe the two dudes in front of me, who were (separately) hauled out during the Justin Townes Earle set. I always admire the efficiency of the security at Headliners. They move in as silent and large as river barges, and just sort of float the miscreants off the floor. I often fantasize about wielding a taser disguised as a tube of lipstick in these kinds of crowds. Just one little tap to the back of the neck, and down like a sack of potatoes! It certainly would be satisfying, but I guess I should leave it to the pros.

     

    Cory Branan

     

    Apart from the shenanigans of those on mind-altering substances, we also got to witness some really good music. Opener Cory Branan is a compelling one-man show, delivering his uniquely warped songs about love in lyrics that vibrate with emotion. Branan sings every song with conviction, fully invested, as though he's lived the life of every one of his stories' protagonists. Branan poses an imminent threat to his guitar on every song -- he doesn't so much play it as attack it, bullying it into conveying just the right level of anger, sadness, or playfulness that he's after.

    There were obviously some fans in the crowd, calling out songs that he jokingly referred to as "deep cuts." One favorite was "The Prettiest Waitress in Memphis" about flirtation carried out over pecan pie. "Sour Mash" is a fun foot-stomper from his new record, even though it's about the wonders of that other liquor they make in Tennessee. Pie and whiskey, sweet and salty -- that's a fair summation of Cory Branan's style.

    Justin Townes Earle and his band came on to close the night, alternately disrupted in the first quarter of his set by the aforementioned hecklers. It must be tough for a former hellraiser to deal with shadows of himself. He claimed to have once ruined a Calexico show, which his guitarist, Paul Niehaus (a member of Calexico) smilingly declined to remember. 

    In spite of his well-publicized inner demons, Earle has put out some of the best Americana music of the last decade (or "country" music, if that genre could be reclaimed). He's at his best when digging into the tangle of damaged relationships and complicated emotional legacies, whether its his classic "Mama's Eyes" or the title song from his newest record, "Single Mothers."

    Woeful-sounding pedal steel from Niehaus on "White Gardenias" accompanied Earle's soulful croon perfectly. Mark Hedman on bass and Matt Pence on drums provided a solid rhythm section throughout and especially on the more upbeat "My Baby Drives." He dipped into Harlem River Blues for several songs, including the title song to close the show. One of the more unpredictable highlights of the evening was his thoughtful rendition of Fleetwood Mac's "Dreams," a suggestion which he credited to his mom.

    You gotta love a boy who listens to his mother.

    Paul Niehaus, Justin Townes Earle, Matt Pence

     

    [Photo Credits: Lee Burchfield]

    Selena Frye's picture

    About Selena Frye

    I'm a writer and editor living in Louisville since 1996. I'm originally from the Blue Ridge of Virginia.

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