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Justin Townes Earle

The Greystones

WITH Steve Earle for a father and taking his middle name from Townes Van Zandt, Nashville-born Justin Townes Earle is steeped in the American folk, blues and country tradition.

Some observers believe he is the closest performer around these days to Hank Williams, with a spare yet engaging style that draws from a life on the edge.

Certainly Earle has crammed plenty into what is approaching 30 years, having battled drug and alcohol addictions and with spells in prison and rehab.

As he takes to the stage, however, in jacket, collar and tie and old-fashioned short haircut, he looks more likely to sell you a bible than get involved in something dodgy, and it seems his only mission is to uphold a musical spirit that can be traced back to his hero, Woody Guthrie.

He succeeds largely through force of personality and a collection of finely crafted songs that Hank would surely have been proud of. For all the banter and Southern twang, songs such as Learning To Cry and One More Night In Brooklyn display the lightest of touches.

A cover of Bruce Springsteen’s Racing In The Streets fits the mood handsomely and Earle’s skills as a writer are encapsulated most convincingly in Harlem River Blues, the title of his most recent album, which was chosen as Song of the Year by the Americana Music Association.

It was also their Album of the Year and there’s another dimension to the songs when they are heard with a full band.

On this occasion, though, it is just Earle and his metronomic guitar method and a fellow young guitarist Rob Walbourne (brother of James, of The Pretenders, whom Earle previously teamed up with).

They were playing a few dates in advance of the Cambridge Folk Festival and The Greystones has been sold out for some time.

After developing a reputation as something of a bad boy, Justin Townes Earle appears to be cleaning up his act to impressive musical effect.

Peter Kay