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JAZZ FEST PREVIEW: Justin Townes Earle

Justin Townes Earle is an anomaly. He’s tall as the day is long, all angles and elbows and a hard stare, both welcoming and deadly serious. He’s Nashville North, all set up in lower Manhattan now, just like his hero Woody Guthrie, with twang and charm intact.
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Justin Townes Earle website

First in a series of warm-up spotlights, for those already counting the days …

 By Wesley Hodges of Nola Live Music Blog

 Justin Townes Earle (son of singer/songwriter/political activist Steve) is a rising star in the Americana music universe, with the talent and stylistic range to have already caught a lot of people’s attention outside of the niche market. Both Justin and his dad made appearances on season one of HBO’s Treme, giving Justin a little closer connection to the city and hopefully providing an excuse for frequent return visits after Jazz Fest.

 It’s rare that an artist has both the desire and ability to create new music that sounds like it could have been made decades ago. Justin Townes Earle’s highly-acclaimed newest album Harlem River Blues has received high praise from a broad array of sources, garnering 4 stars from Rolling Stone, “Best of 2010″ recognition from NPR, and high marks from the discerning customers on Amazon. He was also recognized by the Americana Music Association as the Emerging Artist of the Year in 2009.

 Earle’s latest LP is a timeless record, delivered by a well-traveled and learned troubadour who has lived at least three lifetimes beyond his 29 years. After all the high praise, it’s clear that Earle has rocketed out of his father Steve’s tall shadow. Earle appears poised, sober, and ready to forge his own path in the American songwriting tradition. He’s made great records before Harlem, but this one finds the songwriter hitting his stride and finding his sound. A move from Nashville up to Brooklyn naturally lent itself into the album’s title and thematic makeup. 

 The lyrical content on Harlem continues in the Americana/country tradition of singing about topics like blue-collar work, and the railroad in “Workin for the MTA,” while exploring more common themes like religion and finding a righteous woman (“Christchurch Woman”). The album’s opening track “Harlem River Blues” (available for free on Justin’s home page) has stuck in my head for a week straight, an upbeat and undeniably catchy song about Earle’s baptismal rebirth he experienced moving up to the big city.

 His knack for the art of crafting metaphysical conceits is arguably innate and engrained into his being as the son of one America’s greatest songwriters, but Justin is building his own legacy, and he’s still got a lot of stories to tell.

 Earle will be appearing on opening day of Jazz Fest, Friday, April 29

 This article was reposted with permission of Nola.LiveMusicBlog, where Wesley Hodges keeps tabs on music events and artists across the city.

Renee Peck is editor of NolaVie. Email her at [email protected]