Live Last Night: Justin Townes Earle

Lest anyone think that renowned singer-songwriter Steve Earle is his sole genetic parent, Justin Townes Earle performed "Mama's Eyes" at the Birchmere Bandstand last night. Leaning into a microphone that looked as if it were set up for someone a foot shorter, the lanky tunesmith moved from cutting verse ("I am my father's son, never known when to shut up") to tender summation ("I've got my mama's eyes, her long thin frame and her smile, and I still see wrong from right").

(Read the rest of the review after the jump.)

"Mama's Eyes" appears on Earle's new album, "Midnight At The Movies." Stripped to the essentials for a duo concert, it was one of several songs from the recording that revealed Earle's flair for writing honky-tonk lyrics that could pass for something composed 60 years ago.

Some dealt with complicated relationships, notably "What I Mean To You," while others were fueled by the restless spirit evident on "Halfway To Jackson," a train blues set into motion by Earle's clattering guitar work and the chugging, whistling harmonica of Cory Younts.

A longtime Earle collaborator, Younts mostly played mandolin and banjo, contributing chopped rhythms, finger roll patterns and concise solos that helped make the new songs and some previous album tracks sound all the more rooted and sturdy.

Sometimes, though, Earle pulled off that trick with nothing more than his acoustic guitar and Hank Williams-tinted vocals. Like his namesake, the late Townes Van Zandt, Earle also has soft a spot for Texas songsters, as his performance of Mance Lipscomb's "So Different Blues" soulfully demonstrated.


By J. Freedom du Lac |  March 5, 2009; 12:28 PM ET Live Last Night
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