February 16, 2011

Justin Townes Earle Feat. Dawn Landes - "Do I Ever Cross Your Mind"

Speaking of Josh Ritter, his wife and fellow singer/songwriter Dawn Landes will be stopping in Portland this weekend along with the great and underrated talent Justin Townes Earle. Catch them both at Mississippi Studios on Sunday, February 20th. The Wall Street Journal recently ran an article on the "rehab album" which included a few paragraphs on Earle and his songwriting:

Though artists have certainly written good songs while in recovery, writing songs about the recovery process itself is a trickier matter. "They get very cheesy very fast. With that language you're dealing with a bunch of clich├ęs," says singer-songwriter Justin Townes Earle, 29.

A few years ago, after a stretch in rehab that capped a spiral of homelessness and drug abuse, Mr. Earle started tinkering with a song about the experience. At the time he was staying with his father, the singer Steve Earle, who cratered in the mid-1990s with heroin and jail, then after cleaning up went into a prolific creative rebirth. Steve's advice about the song: Don't go there. If songwriting and recovery don't remain separate, he counseled, "they can both suffer," Justin says. "It was one of the very few suggestions from a father you pay attention to right off."

Now the younger Earle broaches the subject in lyrics more obliquely. On his most recent album, "Harlem River Blues," he sings, "Why do I try my luck? I should never touch the stuff" on the woozy blues tune "Slippin' and Slidin.'"

"That was my realization song," Mr. Earle recalls. It was written last summer when he was touring continuously, had already fallen off the wagon and was on his way to cutting the album in full relapse, marked by a diet of "vodka for breakfast and cocaine for dessert." He had to keep his head, relatively speaking, in order to write and record the songs on "Harlem River Blues," working on them during daylight hours when he was pacing his vodka intake. His productivity would cease around 5 p.m., "Usually by that time I was what most people call drunk, then I'd go out and get what I consider drunk."

Last September, when Mr. Earle was touring in support of the album, his mounting alcohol and cocaine abuse erupted in a violent altercation with a club promoter in Indianapolis. He was arrested, spent the night in jail and soon after was packed off to a rehab facility in Tennessee.

Here's to hoping Earle keeps his head clear enough to write a few more albums as good as Midnight At The Movies and Harlem River Blues—in terms of pure songwriting ability, two of the finest country and folk records I've come across.

Justin Townes Earle Feat. Dawn Landes - "Do I Ever Cross Your Mind" 
Justin Townes Earle - "Hard Livin'"  (Daytrotter)


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