JUSTIN TOWNES EARLE – ” The Songwriter “

Posted: August 25, 2020 in Classic Albums, MUSIC

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The music world this week lost a massive talent far too early when it was announced that Americana singer-songwriter Justin Townes Earle had passed away from undisclosed causes at the age of just 38.

He was the son of country music mainstay Steve Earle, and named for his father’s friend and mentor Townes Van Zandt, and this rich pedigree flowing through his veins was wrought clear by both his obvious musical acumen plus the way he was so defiantly determined to forge his own path and do things his own way.

Earle leaves behind eight beautiful albums – the most latest being 2019’s The Saint Of Lost Causes – and a tragically young family (he and wife Jenn Marie only welcomed daughter Etta St. James into the world in 2017), but also the indelible marks he made on the lives of countless people whose paths he crossed along his too-short but action-packed journey. A genuinely fun guy to be around, he was charismatic and opinionated and incredibly open about his own past, completely willing to steer conversation towards the many trials and tribulations he’d faced, and the addictions he’d battled since his early teens.

The impact of his immaculately authentic song writing and consummate performance skills was immediate and invigorating, and when he burst into a stripped-back but hauntingly beautiful cover of The Replacements’ Can’t Hardly Wait, a great version of which followed on Justin’s subsequent album Midnight At The Movies (2009).

From the very beginning was that this was a guy who was not living in his father’s shadow. He didn’t have to come out and say it, but you just knew it. He wanted to pave his own path, and he wanted to lay those bricks – rightly or wrongly – in the way that he saw fit and the way that he thought it should have been. I admired that, because it would have been very easy for Justin in the early stage of his career – around that first album [2008’s The Good Life] and EP [Yuma(2007)] – when it would have been very easy to talk up his father and milk those connections. There were references to it in interviews, but he’d never use it as a calling card. The Americana genre with which Earle is usually synonymous is a large and often nebulous catch-all, but Earle was equally at home mining sounds and emotions from the soul, blues, folk and even rock’n’roll realms as he was from the country music at Americana’s heart. More than that it was the way he so effortlessly brought a modern spin to those old-timey foundations that made his music so widely accessible. But they didn’t see a country act in Justin, they saw a guy onstage who knew his craft and knew his songs and knew how to deliver those songs in a way that made you feel sitting in the audience like you’re the only person there, in the way that Bruce Springsteen does.

“And you kind of get locked in this zone where you think that you’re the only person in the room and that is a gift – an absolute gift – that not many artists possess, but Justin Townes Earle, was one of those who could do it. He’d take you to a place night in, night out that you wanted to go to, because that’s why you were there. “And he knew that, because that was his job. He rolled up the sleeves, put the guitar on and went to work. There was a lot of fun along the way. But seeing Justin playing live is that every time he walked out onto a stage he was doing the best he could at that point.”

“I feel like Justin was a lynchpin to a whole lot of people who lifted their game because of him,” he offers sadly. “He came out kinda rippin’ at his guitar and it inspired a whole generation of songwriters to rip at that claw-hammer finger-pickin’ style and not be timid when you’re writing songs. “He had that Replacements kinda snowball – that relentless drive and that punk element – to country and modern song writing, . He was an important figure for everyone, it was just crazy. He was also a great raconteur – he’d always tell stories and he was always quite open onstage and quite honest. He was a great, great showman. The breadth of fans at his gigs was incredible, Justin would attract people like 70- and 80-year-olds who loved that classic throwback country songwriting – that dusty 78s-era gramophone country – but then you’d have rockabilly kids in their 20s and punk kids, people who love The Replacements. He had that extraordinary breadth of reach.

“Justin was such a rollercoaster ride of confidence and fragility – he was the extreme of every adjective you can imagine – and people could relate to his journey and his ride. People followed him and they related to him on his ups and his down and his variation from tour to tour in his states of mind, and that made him approachable and incredibly easy to follow and kind of befriend.

He was always incredibly interesting and a song writing genius – so you couldn’t really ignore him, and that’s really rare. He had a force of personality that’s really rare in the music industry these days, apart from the obvious loss – is just the talent that Justin had, it was so immense but in many respects it didn’t reach it’s peak, and that’s terribly sad.

He was a guy who gave a lot onstage, and the talent that Justin possessed was almost inconceivable. He brought a whole lot of rock’n’roll to Americana, he was a real rock star – and sadly you can’t help but feel that he had so many great songs left in him, that his best work was still to come.

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