Welcome to 2009, dear readers. It's been exactly one week since I last posted, but seeing as that I now have a near-full year of archives saved up, I think I deserve the break.
Way back in December of last year I had the pleasure of catching an uber-impressive double show in Houston. Samantha Crain and her Midnight Shivers opened up for Justin Townes Earle at McGonigel's Mucky Duck - a very intimate listening room that might just be the best place for live music in Houston.
Samantha Crain's debut EP was one of the most impressive releases of last year, and her show lived up to the hype. This girl deserves all the attention and praise she has received. Even in an abbreviated set (about 6 songs), Samantha and her band justified my glorified opinion of their music. From the handful of new songs played, their upcoming full-length release has jumped to the top of my most-anticipated '09 albums. The title-track, Songs In The Night is an early standout that we had the pleasure of hearing at the show. Here's one that's available on her label Ramseur Records' site.
Get The Fever Out from Songs In The Night (April 28th, 2009)
I'll be honest - I didn't really like The Good Life from Justin Townes Earle. Sure there are some good tracks, but on the whole the album just didn't do it for me. I felt like the honky-tonk, swing country feel of the disc was trite and forced. But from the first moment JTE took the stage in Houston, it all made sense. Justin Townes is as authentically country as it gets. Although his deep Tennessee drawl is not an act, his show most certainly is. Much like his fellow statesmen Old Crow Medicine Show, Justin and his band turn a concert into an all-out performance. From stage banter to song segues and bandmate interaction to storytelling, JTE's performance is attention-stealing and worth every penny.
Hesitation Blues (live)
Maybe it was the tiny room or the fact that Justin likes to set his mic at his chest, but the man commands the stage and seems 10 feet tall while doing so. Just about every thing he did that night impressed me far beyond my expectations. The way he strums his guitar like it's an extension of his arm was the first clue that Justin has gallons of talent running through his blood (check out this video for an example). I have never seen someone look so natural with an instrument in their hands. Throwing his fingers at the strings, Justin proves that the guitar truly is a percussive instrument.
Chitlin' Cooking Time in Cheatham County (live)
With his mic as hot as possible, Justin showed us that he has mastered using his distance from the microphone to accentuate the showmanship aspect of his set. Justin took some extra time during set-up to request a towel to place under the mic stand saying "believe me, it'll make a BIG difference." What at first seemed like an improvised kick drum, Justin threw a hearty foot stomp at just the right moment in a song. But just one - no rhythm. Throughout the show these random stage durability tests showed up with no explanation except that when the music flowed through him just right, he simply needed to stomp.
Your Biscuits Are Big Enough For Me (live)
It quickly became evident that night that Justin's Townes Van Zandt connections go much further than his name. In addition to his unique strumming technique, JTE fingerpicks with the same effortless proficiency as Townes in his hey-day. During a song intro, Justin mentioned that the upcoming tune was by the "greatest songwriter that ever lived." After a shout from the crowd, Justin answered, "you're damn right Townes Van Zandt. Only one other comes close, and he ain't that close." Then Justin stepped into 'Mr. Mudd and Mr. Gold' - one of the most under-appreciated TVZ songs. Later, during a version of Lightnin' Hopkins' 'My Starter Won't Start', a song that Townes often played, I found myself transported to a sweaty Houston bar just the other side of Hwy 59 in the Third Ward back in 1947. I've always felt a bit of pride being from Houston, but never more than when Justin reminded me of not only Townes' Houston roots, but all the way back to Hopkins' blues beginnings in the underbelly of the city.
My Starter Won't Start This Morning (live)
Another notable cover he included in the set was The Replacements 'Can't Hardly Wait,' with that ear-sticking melody picked out on the mandolin by the multi-talented Cory Younts (get the version recorded for his Daytrotter Session). My favorite song of the night was a new(?) one that could possibly be titled 'I've Got My Mother's Eyes.' If anyone has any info on this song, hit me up. The plaintive tune speaks of the influence both of his parents had on him, with his ability to see right from wrong coming from his mother. Late in the show, Justin spoke of his late grandfather Jack Dublin Earle and played a song for him, retiring the tune that night.
Justin Townes Earle is the brightest ray of hope for the future of country music. And if you had similar reservations about his latest album, do yourself a favor and catch a live show. It will definitely change your opinion, and you will come away a fan.
A Desolate Angel's Blues (live)
Thanks to HearYa.com for these tracks.
They are from Justin's set at Pickathon 2008 - get the whole show.