Justin Townes Earle
St. Cecilia Music Center, Grand Rapids
Dec. 11, 7:30 p.m.
scmc-online.org, (616) 459-2224
While describing the influx of businessmen and record executives migrating from Los Angeles to his Nashville hometown, Justin Townes Earle emanates frustration.
“It’s colonialism," he said. "The TV show 'Nashville'has made it sound like we are enjoying this new-found reputation. But if you ask me, we already had a pretty damn good one.”
The son of alternative country singer Steve Earle and godson of the legendary Townes VanZandt came of age in the city that calls itself the country music's home. But Townes Earle has found a way to cut straight to the heart of the tradition while keeping the pros and cons of life as a musician in perspective. His sixth album, Single Mothers, was released in September and encompasses themes that have been close to Townes Earle’s heart since childhood.
“I was raised by my mom," he said. "Growing up in Nashville, it’s been a sad reality that most musicians are bad at taking care of their children. And it doesn’t have anything to do with being on the road, it’s just being irresponsible."
Finger-picked guitar melodies and vocals that are both breezily swaying and deeply felt mark the songs on Single Mothersas truthful representations of the highs and lows each one of us feels from day to day. For example, “White Gardenias” recognizes Billie Holiday, a chief influence upon Townes Earle’s behind-the-beat style as a singer. However, he sympathizes with the parallels between his past lifestyle — Townes Earle is now sober —and Holiday’s demise.
“Within the first three sentences in a conversation, her [Holiday] being a junkie comes up," he said. "But she’s defenseless now. I didn’t really write the song as a tribute to Billie Holiday—I wrote it for the little girl from Baltimore who never had a chance.”
Currently, Townes Earle is striving to write songs with meaning, while maintaining roots in the traditions of country and Americana.
“Right now, there are a lot of songs coming out of Nashville with no real meaning, and it’s just about having fun. That’s not all bad, but songs are supposed to have substance.”