Justin Townes Earle

SXSW showcase reviews

Justin Townes Earle

Red Eyed Fly, March 21

Justin Townes Earle tried to start his set with "They Killed John Henry" but forgot the words and gave up. It was the last misstep of the evening. Earle's a natural performer, and accompanied only by banjo and mandolin from Cory Younts, he offered effortlessly perfect renditions of his own songs, country standards from Woody Guthrie and the Carter Family, and the Replacements' "Can't Hardly Wait." The crowd even coaxed an encore from him, Earle obliging with standard "Hesitation Blues" and covering both the rhythm and solo at the same time. A tall man, Earle positions the microphone so that he has to hunch over to sing. Coupled with his extremely thin frame and tradition-minded aesthetic choices, this gives him the air of a bent but spry old man. The corners of Earle's mouth pull up naturally, so he wears something between a grin and a smirk; even on "Walk Out," his scowl fades after only one verse. He mugs and bows relentlessly, and it's tempting to wonder if he's actually that happy or it's all just an act. Whatever the case, Earle's impossibly beautiful vocals on "Mama's Eyes" brought the audience to ecstasy. You can't argue with results.

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