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Justin Townes Earle: Demons and redemption

By VICKI ANDERSON - Reproduced courtesy of The Press

Justin Townes Earle, son of maverick Steve Earle and named after his godfather, songwriter Townes Van Zandt, possesses a quietly spoken demeanour and piercing blue eyes.

The lanky tattooed singer and songwriter has a persona that is equal parts rebellion and self- deprecating humour.

He has previously offered up such demon-fuelled "country rock- gospel" as the 2009 album Midnight At the Movies, closely followed by 2010's Harlem River Blues.

In 2012 he switched his gaze to 1960s-era soul on the album Nothing's Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now.

That album, accented by sparsely-soulful horns and keys, told stories of his famous dad, his own war with addiction and his distressed ex-lovers.

His life now is calmer.

The recently married 32-year- old's tender baritone is to the fore on his newly released album, Single Mothers.

From Nashville, where he is rehearsing for his upcoming tour this month, Townes Earle describes it as "stripped back".

"My previous records had a lot of instruments on them . . . This time around there's guitar, steel, bass and drums, real simple. Every song on the record was cut like that so it's a stripped-down thing but at the same time people have described it as both a country and blues record which I am glad about, it's part of the point."

Support duties for Townes Earle's upcoming tour fall to former Lyttelton musician Marlon Williams, who is based in Melbourne.

The last time Townes Earle performed in Christchurch, his night ended with a Lyttelton musician throwing him over one shoulder. He chuckles when he remembers it.

For the first time, he is pleased to be bringing a four-piece band with him for this tour.

"I've been lucky to keep everyone's attention as a solo act for my entire career as far as New Zealand and Australia are concerned so I think it's time to bring a different show over."

Every addict knows there is a line and that one day they're going to cross it or crash into it headfirst.

For Townes Earle, his first highly publicised fall was being fired from his role as guitarist and keyboardist for his dad's touring band, the Dukes, because of his drug use. It happened again when he was 21. His poison at that time was crack cocaine.

He claimed in one interview to have first tried drugs at the age of 10.

After many years of being clean, at the end of 2010 he checked into rehab after being arrested and thrown in jail after a gig in Indianapolis went wrong.

After multiple stints in rehab he is embracing sobriety.

He says that, looking back, he wrote the new album from a "not very good place".

"I think this record represents, like a lot of my songs do, a grown man struggling with being a grown man."

On the title track he growls: "absent father, never offer even a dollar, he doesn't seem to be bothered by the fact that he's forfeited his rights to his own. Absent father is long gone."

 His father Steve Earle left Justin's mother when Justin was two years old.

His parents invariably pop up in his songs a lot, he says.

"My mother holds a very strong image in my mind regarding everything you have to do to raise a child.

"It's ridiculous for people to say that their parents are not a massive influence on them, good or bad. It's been a running theme throughout my life. It's something I used to want to understand, like I was going to get something from understanding it when I should have understood that there is nothing to understand."


Justin Townes Earle, with support from Marlon Williams, in Christchurch at the Bedford, CPIT on October 23, and in Wellington on October 24 at Bodega.  Tickets, $45, are available from Ticketmaster and Penny Lane Records (Christchurch) and Rough Peel Music (Wellington). He performs also as part of the Southern Fork Americana Festival at the Tuning Fork in Auckland on October 25 and 26. 

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