Depending on what’s holding his interest at any given moment, Justin Townes Earle constantly updates his personal and musical styles — and his recent Belly Up show found him unapologetic as ever.
Despite gushing about his wife and their recently celebrated one-year wedding anniversary, Earle’s sharp tongue was still out in full force. In typical fashion, he managed to proclaim country music “dead” and his nephews and nieces “pussies.” He acknowledged that “You never know what’s going to come out of my mouth,” a promise he had no trouble living up to. This unpredictability is one of the many reasons why he is so fascinating to watch in a live setting.
On his latest album, Single Mothers, Earle delivers a slow-burning, bluesy culmination of everything he’s done up to this point. At the show, punches of slide guitar and backing vocals enhanced the new material. Older, more upbeat songs like “Ain’t Waitin’” and “Harlem River Blues” also got a change of pace. It mostly worked, although certain songs — such as “My Baby Drives” — felt a tad too slow. It was nice to see Earle attempt to switch things up during his set, but the night really could have benefited from more barn-busting.
Earle was accompanied by a very capable and likable backing band, which still includes Paul Niehaus from Calexico. Earle also went solo to give his band a break for a handful of songs, playing an ode to his grandfather, “They Killed John Henry,” to quick-plucking perfection. Unfortunately, this lovely segment was the shortest part of the evening.
While not the best version of Justin Townes Earle I’ve seen, it was still an enjoyable evening full of dark humor and heartfelt songs by one of the most skillful musicians out there today.
Openers American Aquarium brought an overabundance of plaid and checkered work shorts while delivering a robust, alt-country sound. The six-piece band from Raleigh, NC, fronted by gravelly-voiced B.J. Barham, charmed with songs about their southern roots.
Photos: Justin Townes Earle at The Belly Up
Photos: American Aquarium