Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Brett Allen
Justin Townes Earle was loitering near the bar in this East Village pub in New York City a few months ago, meeting out for a nightcap drink. It was a spot, a step-down joint with a dim complexion and Stefan Marolachakis of Caveman/The End Of The World spinning obscure indie rock gems until closing time, close to Earle's apartment. It's a neighborhood that he knows all too well, filled with a lot of his old, troubled history - the neighborhood that he came to as a teenager, filled with old and grizzled men who supplied him with music, booze, wine, smokes and drugs and it's a place that he couldn't imagine not living in these days. It's a place where a hungry man can purchase a slice of pizza as big as a bureau at any time of the night and it's a neighborhood where, on this hot as balls day in the city, Earle can walk down the block to one of his favorite clothing stores - Uniqlo - and buy his first ever pair of shorts just to not feel the sweat pouring down his legs as if his body were a hydrant cracked open and babbling waste water. It's a neighborhood filled with hearty rats, drug deals and beautiful women passing you by every other second. It's a place that's so entrenched in the greater human drama that it's a world unto itself and if there's ever a place for Earle - somewhere that combines dysfunction, the opportunities for erring, strong impulses, the availability of everything, women, and most importantly, an entire society of people/strangers and non-strangers trying to get by, trying to live with themselves and others in ways that minimize the amount of damage that can be done - this is it. This is most definitely it and Earle feels wonderfully comfortable here, having moved back to NYC after spending a lot of time, recently, in Nashville, finding that one of the only things that's been troubling is finding fiddle players, not violinists. It's a trouble he never had in Nashville. Earle's always been a mama's boy and he seems as if he's been sweetened up by a mother, given an armload of charm by a woman - the kind that charms other mothers and it's one of his strongest characteristics as a songwriter, drawing on this tender side to get himself into the playful kinds of trouble that he and his characters find themselves in. They mess around, they do, but we tend to see them as the heroes of the tales nonetheless, these lovable men who obviously get distracted, but have hearts of gold, covered in tar. They are men, who like Earle in real life, have had daddy issues, but who are trying to be the kinds of men that they might never have had great examples of for emulation. The songs on his upcoming LP, "Harlem River Blues," are marked by more of these stories of trying to get to that point of comfortableness, a point where things aren't such a challenge anymore - where the woman you love is the woman you've been in love with for years and years and she's the one you always spend your morning coffee and smokes with. She's that first face you see when you wake up, not just the last one you see when you fall asleep. She's right there and no one's going anywhere. On "Christchurch Woman," Earle sings, "Now, I've always been a fool for a conversation and a couple of smokes," and at the end of the line, it sounds as if he's chuckling a little, but this probably doesn't mean anything, for it's a statement of his core. It's where he wants to be - with a story-teller like himself and someone who just wants to work through a pack without too much interruption. It's a home.