Justin Townes Earle / Michigan Rattlers
105.5 The Colorado Sound

Justin Townes Earle / Michigan Rattlers

Performers:
Justin Townes Earle
Michigan Rattlers
$35.00
Ages 18+
Justin Townes Earle At Globe Hall on Friday, October 25th

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Justin Townes Earle has done a lot of living in his 37 years. For starters, there’s the quick-hit

bullet points about his childhood that seem to get dredged up in every interview, article or

review about the singer-songwriter and guitarist: Born the son of Steve Earle, who was largely

absent during Justin’s childhood; struggles from a young age with addiction and numerous

stints in rehab; long stretches of itinerancy and general juvenile delinquency; a youth he once

said he was “lucky to have gotten out of alive.”

That’s before we get to the years spent honing his craft in Nashville bars and on club stages all

over the world; the various bands, record labels and industry types that have been drawn toward

and, at times, pushed away by him; and, finally, the celebrated and rather formidable body of

work he has amassed since releasing his critically-acclaimed 2007 debut EP, Yuma.

It’s a seemingly bottomless well of material for a singer-songwriter to mine out of just three

decades or so of life. And Earle at times has—most recently on his 2017 album, Kids in the

Street, which the artist calls “one of the more personal records I’ve ever made.”

But when it came to his newest effort, The Saint of Lost Causes, Earle, these days sober, married

and father to a baby girl, chose to focus his gaze outward. “Maybe having a kid has made me look

at the world around me more,” he says.

As for how he felt after doing that?

“Frankly, I was horrified,” he says bluntly. Although, he adds, “I already sorta was, anyway.”

Make no mistake: there’s nary a party, PBR or pickup truck to be found in any of the 12 tracks on

The Saint of Lost Causes. Rather, Earle is focused on a different America—the disenfranchised

and the downtrodden, the oppressed and the oppressors, the hopeful and the hopeless. There’s

the drugstore-cowboy-turned-cop-killer praying for forgiveness (“Appalachian Nightmare”) and

the common Michiganders persevering through economic and industrial devastation (“Flint City

Shake It”); the stuck mother dreaming of a better life on the right side of the California tracks

(“Over Alameda”) and the Cuban man in New York City weighed down by a world of regret (“Ahi

Esta Mi Nina”); the “used up” soul desperate to get to New Orleans (“Ain’t Got No Money”) and

the “sons of bitches” in West Virginia poisoning the land and sea (“Don’t Drink the Water”).

These are individuals and communities in every corner of the country, struggling through the

ordinary—and sometimes extraordinary—circumstances of everyday life.

“I was trying to look through the eyes of America,” Earle says. “Because I believe in the idea of

America—that everybody's welcome here and has the right to be here.”

Earle tells these American stories in detail and without judgement. But he also lays out his point

of view right from the start. The Saint of Lost Causes kicks off in stark fashion with the title

track, on which JTE, over a desolate soundscape of acoustic guitar, deliberate snare hits and

moaning pedal steel, presents a harsh vision of the world in plainspoken, almost biblical terms:

"Got your sheep / got your shepherds / got your wolves amongst men,” he intones, before

asking, “Throughout time / between the wolf and the shepherd / who do you think has killed

more sheep?”

“That's kind of like the spooky leftist conspiracy theorist in me,” Earle says with a slight laugh,

before turning serious. “But the fact is, if you look around, we live in a time where one of the

number-one threats to an inner-city black youth is a police officer. It’s just bizarre. So I think

sometimes how we forget how animal we are. We look at ourselves as this sort of

higher-functioning being, but we miss the mark quite often at being civilized and such.”

He points to another track, the slide-guitar-and-harmonica assisted “Don’t Drink the Water”

(“Folks gettin’ sick, talkin’ women and children / ask the man on the stand what he thinks killed

‘em”), as a further example of man’s disregard for his fellow man. “Several years ago one of [coal

CEO and former Republican primary candidate for Senate] Don Blankenship's companies

leaked a bunch of chemicals into the river outside of Charleston, West Virginia, and there’s still

areas where if people take a bath they’ll get lesions on their skin,” he explains of the song’s

subject matter. “We live in the richest per-capita country in the world, and we have people who

can't bathe in the fucking water. Much less drink it.”

While that song and others like “Flint City Shake It”—where, over a boogie-woogie rhythm, Earle

chronicles the decline of the city’s once vibrant auto manufacturing industry (“Then trouble

come in ’86 / this son of a bitch named Roger Smith / cut our throat with the stroke of a

fountain pen”)—cite historical events, other tracks present fictionalized narratives that are no

less harrowing or true-to-life.

Take the haunting “Appalachian Nightmare,” on which Earle spins a first-person account of how

a landscape of little opportunity combined with a few bad decisions can quickly lead to a

premature, and literal, dead end. “It's a fictional story, but it's a story we've heard a million

times growing up in the South,” he says. “I remember back in the late Nineties we had what they

called the ‘Oxycontin Wars,’ which was, like, hillbillies armed to the teeth robbing the shit out of

drug stores. People went buck wild and it destroyed a lot of lives.”

But Saint of Lost Causes is not all doom and gloom. There are also moments of calm, both

musically and lyrically, where Earle pulls back to admire the beauty of the world around him. On

the languid “Mornings in Memphis” (“one of my favorite songs on the record”), he watches the

sun rise, takes a stroll down Beale Street to the banks of the Mississippi, and, finally, stands

alone under a sky full of stars where all he can do is “try not to think / just listen to my heart.”

He offers a similar, if more jocular ode to his surroundings on “Pacific Northwestern Blues,”

where the Nashville-bred Earle, now relocated a few thousand miles west, laments only being

able to drive 20 miles an hour due to the region’s notoriously rainy conditions. “We’re moving so

slow / I’m about to lose my mind,” he complains over a loping Western swing accompaniment.

Says Earle with a laugh, “I've been living in the Pacific Northwest for a while, and I’ve realized

that, you know, the weather really does suck up here!”

Earle may call the Pacific Northwest his home these days, but when it came time to record The

Saint of Lost Causes he headed back to Music City. “I always say, ‘If you want whores and

gambling, you go to Vegas. If you want to make records, you go to Nashville,’ ” he reasons. Earle

co-produced The Saint of Lost Causes with his longtime engineer Adam Bednarik, and likewise

brought in musicians that that he’s known for years, among them guitarist Joe McMahan, pedal

steel player Paul Niehaus, drummer Jon Radford and Old Crow Medicine Show keyboardist

Cory Younts. “I'm realizing that as I'm getting older and grumpier and set in my ways, I just

much more enjoy making a record on my own terms and with people I know well,” he says.

To that end, Earle also worked at a studio he knew well, even if he had never actually recorded

there before. Sound Emporium is a facility steeped in music history—it was opened by Cowboy

Jack Clement in 1969 and has hosted country luminaries like Johnny Cash and Kenny Rogers

over the years—and also Earle’s own childhood. “I grew up in that neighborhood, and as a kid I

used to ride my bike through the Sound Emporium parking lot,” he says. “It was always an active

place in the neighborhood. So it was great to finally be able to record there.”

As for where Earle’s sound, which on The Saint of Lost Causes spans everything from traditional

country, blues and folk to western swing, roots-rock and boogie-woogie, fits into the larger

country music picture beyond Nashville?

“I see it the same way that Gram Parsons did,” he says. “There’s this idea of moving forward and

playing with newer sounds and different modes, but at the same time making sure you keep one

foot firmly planted in the past as you feel out the future. I think it’s really important to leave a

trail, you know? Put down some breadcrumbs behind you.”

He’s similarly resolute when it comes to his lyrics. Ask Earle whether he is at all concerned that

the bold stance he takes on The Saint of Lost Causes might raise the country-music

establishment’s hackles, and he can only laugh in response.

“I've never been opposed to pissing off all the right people,” he says matter-of-factly. “But I see it

two ways: If you don't like what I have to say politically or anything like that, just don't read my

interviews. But you're never going to go to my shows and hear political spiel from me. We're

going to play songs and have a good time, because that's what the show is all about.

“But you know,” he continues, “I'm a disciple of the Woody Guthrie school of thinking about

music. I figure it’s always better to just go ahead and tell people the truth.”

On The Saint of Lost Causes, Earle proves himself a songwriter and artist who is unflinching and

unequivocal in his truth.

Michigan Rattlers

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Lifelong friends and deep-north natives, Michigan Rattlers play heavy-hearted folk-rock with an aching dose of Midwestern nice. Graham Young (guitar), Adam Reed (upright bass), and Christian Wilder (piano) began writing music and performing together in their Northern Michigan high school.

Venue Information:
Globe Hall
4483 Logan Street
Denver, CO, 80216