Justin Townes Earle just can’t enough of Australia!
He has followed up last year’s visit supporting Single Mothers with his sixth solo album Absent Fathers and yet another full-fledged Australian tour, including an appearance at Bluesfest at Byron Bay. This time around, the Americana/country singer-songwriter was not with the full band but was instead on his own.
Despite a more scaled-back show, Earle entertained the crowd within the pub-like confines of The Basement with his humour, deft guitar playing, solid vocals and quality showmanship.
Round the Bend and Call Ya Momma began the set on a whimsical note, as Earle’s percussive guitar strums smack down the steady beats.
It was on One More Night in Brooklyn where Earle found his rhythm with his ornate finger-picking, even though he had a tendency to play with his eyes closed and just paces left to right on stage. They Killed John Henry was amusingly jolly and Christchurch Woman effortlessly captured the warmth of summer rain, as he merely flicked his wrists on the guitar band to switch chords seamlessly. The bluesier moments spiced things up, such as the honky-tonk, desert-evoking Ain’t Glad I’m Leaving, the loud but fun Memphis in the Rain and the enjoyable, doo-wop-influenced Worried Bout the Weather. After the pleasantries of Roger’s Park came the frenetic, train-appropriate Halfway to Jackson.
Hilariously unfiltered musings on topics such as the once-Brooklyn-based Earle’s disdain for ‘kids’ in New York City, careless baggage handling and Nashville country music being ruined were scattered throughout, keeping audiences laughing whilst Earle retuned his guitar.
Earle’s softer ballad moments were even more affecting. White Gardenias was painstakingly beautiful, as he penetrates the room with honesty and emotion. The devastating Mama’s Eyes and slightly discordant yet hopeful Single Mothers came one after the other. Even then, Earle was able to joke about the placement of these ‘sad’ songs.
Covers included those by Billy Joe Shaver (the bristling I’ve Been to Georgia on a Fast Train), Lightnin’ Hopkins (the lengthy, raspy but whiskey-soaked I Been Burning Bad Gasoline that got some in the crowd hooting and hollering) and Fleetwood Mac (a less musically opaque version of Dreams in the encore). Harlem River Blues remained a crowd-pleasing favourite, as even the people dining at the tables in front of the stage responded with familiarity to one of Earle’s most well-known songs.
Thanks to a consistent sound mix, Earle’s humour, talent, professionalism and support for opening act Sam Outlaw, the crowd were able to immerse themselves in good old-fashioned, heart-felt, blues-tinged American country music.
Round the Bend
Call Ya Momma
One More Night in Brooklyn
They Killed John Henry
Ain’t Glad I’m Leaving
Worried Bout the Weather
I’ve Been to Georgia on a Fast Train (Billy Joe Shaver cover)
Am I That Lonely Tonight?
Time Shows Fools
Today and a Lonely Night
Memphis in the Rain
I Been Burning Bad Gasoline (Lightnin’ Hopkins cover)
Halfway to Jackson
Dreams (Fleetwood Mac cover)
Harlem River Blues