Who comes to Portland and sells so many tickets they can play two shows in a day? How often does that happen? Saturday, Justin Townes Earle, son of songwriting superstar and ex-convict Steve Earle, will play both a 4:30 and an 8pm show on the intimate stage at One Longfellow Square. There’s no better venue in town to catch an artist like Earle, middle-named after the late, great Townes Van Zandt and the second in a growing line of historic country rascals.
Like his father, Justin’s a wandering soul with a fair share of sordid road stories all his own. Musically speaking, he’s a sharp 21st century update of the outlaw country tradition, albeit a gentler incarnation of that spirit that harkens back more to the days of Willie and Waylon than the barn-burning hellfire of Hank III. With a voice as rich and mesmerizing as any number of classic country greats, he writes contemporary ballads that pay equal tribute to the Kris Kristofferson school of songwriting and Nebraska-era Springsteen. His are characters, like the Boss’s, that are desperate to get out and go somewhere, anywhere away from here. But he writes with a rich, romantic eye for the little details that runs deep through much of America’s most classic ballads. To boot, there’s a strain of Southern soul in his sense of melody and arrangement that further complicates his hybrid songs, and places him in a world far removed from that of his father. Here, gospel, blues, honky-tonk and the less traditional experimentation of late 20th century alt-country mix together into one low down, wistful sound. As I’ve told friends and strangers alike for years, he stands a fair chance of equalling, if not surpassing, the work of good ol’ dad if he continues to grow at the rate displayed on his last few albums.
Justin Townes Earle at One Longfellow Square Saturday, March 7 at 4:30pm and 8pm Late show sold out, tickets available for early show from $25