A trip to rehab is a funny thing. It can have so many different effects on artists. Some clean up and become repentant, some go on their merry way only to repeat, and some struggle with it for years. I’m not sure where this path will lead JT Earle but I am sure that he’ll still make good music.
Was he different? Yeah, I’d say so. He seemed to have a bit more serious expression on his face. But he was still the storyteller in song and in banter that I remembered from the previous live shows. He’s an amazing guitar player whose bluegrass pedigree really shines through in a live setting.
An immediate standout was the rollicking number from his superb debut EP Yuma called “I Don’t Know.” JT dedicated the number to Woody Guthrie “wherever he may be” and then launched into a version even faster than the studio one. Josh Hedley really gave the song a fiddle/country makeover. The harmonies also had a transformative effect and it took on the feel of an old bluegrass standard (minus the banjo).
In recent albums, Earle has dulled the country edge a bit in favor of the acoustic songwriter on a couple of tracks (on his last two albums). They each do really change the pace of a live show and give Earle a chance to really showcase his singing voice. A favorite is always “Mama’s Eyes” and I really can’t get sick of hearing it live.
From the new record, JT really tore right into “Wanderin’.” This song also sounds quite different on tape vs. either solo or with a band. Before this show, I preferred hearing it live with JT and a guitar. It has a similar rambling feel of Josh’s first record. It sounds both tossed off and measured in the same song. But with the band, tt really makes you want to tap your feet. It signals a return again to the bluegrass pedigres which Earle has cultivated so well as a solo artist.
While JT Earle seems a bit removed from the earlier happy go-lucky days of earlier concerts, the songwriter is every bit as engaging as each of the previous shows I’ve seen. Earle has made a place for himself as one of the most exciting live acts of the new Americana. I hope more acts follow him.
About the author: Jeff is a teacher in the Boston area. When not buried correcting papers, Jeff can be found plucking various stringed instruments and listening to all types of americana music.