Storytellers are often individuals who have lived many experiences. They excel at embellishing life as they pass stories to the next generation.
Justin Townes Earle is a helluva storyteller. The 37-year-old singer/songwriter is bound for Australia with a new set of songs, all great stories, from his new album, The Saint of Lost Causes.
Earle has long been a rebel of the music scene, so much so that he doesn't fit any one genre - Americana might be the closest, but he was there before the rest of the crowd, and now he's not so keen for the label.
But as much as he has been the source of stories for being a bad boy, he's lived plenty of his time among the people of Middle America, particularly in the south. That lifestyle is a rich hunting ground for stories.
The new album is full of tales about the maladies of current-day America.
In Appalachian Nightmare, Earle sings of a young man born in Cincinnati and raised in West Virginia, who quits school at 15, gets kicked out of home, gets involved in the illegal drug trade, does jail time, and robbing pharmacies until one day he shoots a policeman.
"It's a composite story of different characters I've known, places I've worked. I lived there," he says of the song.
"I think Appalachian people people, from West Virginia and eastern Kentucky, they are the only people that can claim something similar to the oppression that black Americans can claim... with methamphetamines, if you marginalise any group of people, they get desperate. There are no jobs in West Virginia except mining coal."
The album is a juggernaut, both lyrically and musically. From the melancholy blues of the cover song, to the galloping rhythm of Ain't Got No Money, to the calming pedal steel that lays the path for Frightened by the Sound, to soulful southern blues of Say Baby, Earle is cooking with gas. Other songs point out the troubles of Flint, Michigan (Flint City Shake It), an immigrant's dream for a better life (Over Alameda), pollution in West Virginia (Don't Drink The Water), and a freed convict's love for his daughter (Aha Esta Mi Nina).
"It's doing better than anything I've done," he says. "It's wild."
He's always had the pulse of America through the eyes of the dark side. In the age of Trump, his music is thriving - he's captured the moment, he knows the pain, he knows the game. He's got no time for the current president. But he's got plenty of time for the American people.
"I'm proud to be an American," he says. "I'm proud to be a southern American. All over America, all over the world, we have forgotten we're just Americans, we don't take care of each other... we've given the platform to the nasty people. I don't hate people due to race, sex, sexual orientation. That's become ok."
His point: "We need to realise we are Americans, we need to take care of each other."
That care starts at home.
A year ago, Earle stepped back from Twitter, where he had a history of dealing opinions about every subject that came into his head. Now, his Twitter feed is all about his music. "I got the tired of the exchange," he says. "The social network has gotten so ugly."
The cover of The Saint of Lost Causes features a man - the first cover in eight albums that doesn't have a woman or him on it. "I got married," he says, citing the cover of his album 2015 Absent Fathers that features him and his wife Jen. "That's the last one."
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He's also relaxed his clothing style.
"I'm not wearing bowties," he says. " I'm still wearing $1000 shoes, $500 jeans. $300 shirts. I have relaxed... it became a bit of a novelty. I am at that point in my career and life, I want people to just see me."
One thing that hasn't changed: he still writes his music alone.
"I'm super choosey," he says. "I don't co-write, not since 18. I don't like it. I start with where I want to go, and what it's about. I don't want any body else's f--king information."
- Justin Townes Earle will perform at Castlemaine's Theatre Royal on August 31.
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