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Earle does it well all over again

The Sinclair, Cambridge, Mass., May 22, 2018

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

Justin Townes Earle is back. Not that he had gone anywhere too far away. Less than four months ago, he performed a similarly styled solo acoustic show across the river in Boston at the City Winery.

So, once again, this was the chance for Earle to showcase his bevy of very good material, leaning heavily towards a bluesy side, with his interest in telling stories and opining mainly about drugs.

Earle was best when he played. And there is a lot of quality there from the country blues of "They Killed John Henry" to the mid-tempo "Rogers Park" about his time in Chicago to "Christchurch Woman" about a woman in New Zealand.

With a rolling guitar style, Earle got a lot out of his guitar, while keeping the emphasis squarely on the songs. He often touched on the blues as he did a few months ago with songs includes "Trouble Is" and "Fishing Blues," where he referenced Taj Mahal.

Earle closed the 90-minute show with a few worthy and diverse covers - undervalued songwriter Malcolm Holcombe's "Who Carried You" and perhaps the most commercial song from The Replacements, "Can't Hardly Wait." Good move on both songs.

As for his stage style, Earle wasn't afraid to say how he allegedly stole $30,000 from a drug dealer living in the same building or very frequently threw in a lot of profanity into his delivery. Let's put it this way. Earle tended to have a sharply worded, sometimes funny patter.

Earle, who last time around said he had been in rehab 13 times, went on a rant, questioning the government's war on drugs, which he said was a failure. With that he launched into "White Dress, White Shoes, White Gardenias," which he dedicated to Billie Holliday, who died of drugs.

Earle, of course, never really has gone away. He's a worthy performer, who doesn't live off his last name (though he did offer a cutting dig at father Steve for eight marriages while adding "the difference between me and my dad is I don't feel like I need to marry every woman I sleep with."), and he has proven himself to be a good songwriter.

Whether necessary to return so quickly may be a matter of debate especially with a near identical set, but at least he made it all sound new and fresh.