Americana / Blues / Country / Folk / Gig Reviews / Soul

LIVE REVIEW: Justin Townes Earle + Robert Ellis @ The Basement, Sydney (05/02/13)

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by Chris Familton

The practice of an established artist giving a relative newcomer a leg-up by taking them out on tour is an admirable one and in the case of Texan singer/songwriter Robert Ellis it was a real treat to watch and listen to such an affable singer with a firm grasp of a number of americana song forms – from folk to honky tonk to bluegrass and classic country. He also displayed a blistering turn of speed on guitar, launching flurries of acoustic notes that drew cheers of appreciation. Ellis played some of his debut album’s best moments in Westbound Train, What’s In It For Me? and the amusing No Fun complete with audience whoops and hollers. He also treated us to a couple of new songs, the standout of which was the set closer Singalong that detailed religious upbringing in America with bristling, barely concealed condemnation. Lets hope that Ellis follows in the footsteps of Earle and becomes a regular visitor to these shores.

Justin Townes Earle may as well get a dog and an apartment he has become such a frequent flyer to Australia. The fascinating thing has been watching him evolve and mature as both a songwriter and performer over the years. We first bore witness to a pale and sweating man with a nervous disposition wired into an intense stage show. As time and albums have passed Earle has become quite a different performer and the man who stepped onto the Basement stage appeared both more confident and more humble. It was as if he knows how good he is now, that all he has to do is play his songs well and the crowd will lap it up. That was just what he did with between-song banter both poignant and hilarious as he touched on familiar themes of family and relationships (usually in a state of dissolution). Earle played a wonderful mix of tracks from all his records, including Mama’s Eyes, Harlem River Blues, Halfway To Jackson, Memphis In The Rain and two exceptional covers in Close Up the Honky Tonks (Buck Owens) and Can’t Hardly Wait (The Replacements). Earle isn’t a folk singer, country singer, blues or soul singer. He is all of the above and one of those reliably great live performers with an impressive catalogue of songs to draw from.

this review was first published in The Drum Media and on The Music

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