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Justin Townes Earle finds comfort in the blues

City Winery, Boston, January 31, 2018

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

Before launching his solo acoustic show with "Champagne Corolla," Justin Townes Earle opined after asking the crowd how it was doing, "I don't know how I feel...I know how I feel up here (meaning on stage)...I fuck up everything else."

Maybe there is a safety valve for Earle on stage, and yes, he has certainly made problems for himself over his 36 years (13 times in rehab for heroin, to which he said he was addicted for 13 years).

And frankly, Earle seemed more and more comfy onstage as he was certainly in good spirits and form during his 90-minute show before a packed house.

Earle has gone increasingly towards a bluesy bent over time away from a country/roots sound. The one song he called honky tonk was probably going to cause purists to wonder what type of tonk he was talking.

In addition his own material, such as his well-done closing song, "Harlem River Blues," Earle tossed in several covers, which speak volumes about where an artist is at musically. For Earle, that meant tackling Lightnin' Hopkins' "Automobile Blues" and a Mance Lipscomb song. He did a credible cover of Paul Simon's "Graceland," giving it a bluesy shine.

Earle mixed it up a bit with songs such as "Faded Valentine" and "Mama's Eyes" (father in question, of course, is Steve Earle, and the song takes dead aim at Steve's bad habits trickling down to his son).

Despite the downer quality of some of the songs, Earle certainly was entertaining with his comments throughout, joking around quite often (he only grew serious when talking about opioid addiction) and seemingly more and more at ease.

Earle did not come off like the screw-up he indicated he was in his private life. Who knows? Maybe that helped him with his career as well because he certainly conveyed the feeling that he was quite comfortable with his state in life. Based on this night, there's good reason.

Heather McEntire, lead singer of Mount Moriah, preceded Earle with a stint showcasing her warm standout vocals, that convey feeling and honesty. McEntire was accompanied by electric guitarist Luke Norton, whose playing was sharp and concise. "Red Silo,' her single, was a particular highlight. McEntire acquitted herself well, showing there is musical life beyond her regular gig.