Jazz Festival Reviews – Justin Townes Earle, The Mavericks and Lucinda Williams
Justin Townes Earle
If anyone has a grumpy outlook on life, or – more to the point, a realistic outlook on life, it is Justin Townes Earle.
At Place des Arts, Townes Earle ( son of Steve Earle), was the first act in a triple bill featuring The Mavericks and Lucinda Williams.
Justin vented and bared all. His thoughts, his (bad) habits, his love for his Mom and – most poignantly, his hatred for Brooklyn; undressed and ready to go.
First – Justin likes to talk between songs. Whether he has a huge ego, needs to vent or his nerves get the better of him, Justin likes to talk. If the genetic pool runs deep, then Justin’s banter a spin – off of his father’s mentality to get messages circulating like a Walmart flyer ( unless the Walmart is burned down first).
The song ‘One More Night in Brooklyn’ is beautifully sung by Townes Earle as are every song he sings. His acoustic guitar playing is in the top echelon of guitar players and his songwriting – second to none. Listening to Justin sing and talk, opposite sides of the personality scale. Singing – he is Kermit the Frog. Speaking, Miss Piggy and all her ugliness surfaces.
Lyrically, songs such as ‘One More Night in Brooklyn’ , ‘Mamas Eyes’ and ‘Single Mothers’ are truthful and Justin does a great job disguising his wounds with heartfelt vocals and melodies. Some singers sing from the soul. Townes Earle is one of those singers.
Fresh off their acclaimed free show at La Place des Festivals on Thursday evening, The Mavericks gave Montreal a second chance to discover what the city has missed.
Except for the diehard fans, who knew that singer Raul Malo could sing better than 90% of the world’s population? On songs such as ‘ All You Ever Do is Bring Me Down’ ( the group’s biggest North American hit) and ‘Dance the Night Away’ ( eighteen weeks as number one on the UK charts), Malo donated an effortless, beautiful vocal painting to the patrons of Place des Arts.
The Mavericks ( winners of three Country Music Awards and one Grammy) broke up in 2004 and reunited in 2012. The group formed in 1989 and have two original members ( Malo, Deakin ). Along with guitarist Eddie Perez ( ’03 ) and Keyboardist Jerry Dale McFadden ( 95) – the guys next song should be ‘ How Can You Miss Me If I Don’t Go Away? ‘ The band and the audience (both nights) had more fun than what should be allowed at a Festival.
‘Born to Be Blue’ showcased Malo’s vocals in a ballad a la George Jones. If Malo was a kid ( and contestant ) at the time shows such as American Idol and The Voice were all the rage, hands-down he would have won. Thankfully he wasn’t or we may not have him today as the corporate machine would have spat him out by now.
‘Someone Should Tell Her’ and ‘I’ve Got This Feeling’ continued the party. With a ‘Tex-Mex’ sound part Country, part Rock and part Big Band, The Mavericks introduced a Jazz festival audience to an unfamiliar sound. Just like Australia’s The Cat Empire did in 2014, these bunch of Floridians, these ‘mavericks’ – left an entire city buzzing.
The Barr Brothers should take note. The Mavericks know how to throw a party !
It’s all about the band, about the band, about the band …
So it appeared on Saturday night at Salle Wilfred Pelletier. At least for the beginning of Lucinda Williams show.
Drummer Butch Norton, bassist David Sutton and guitar player extraordinaire Stuart Mathis came close to making the band Cream seem irrelevant. All night, this trio terrorized any indication that Williams’ reputation as a Country -Folk singer was such. Lucinda could have easily arrived on stage and did a tribute to Janis Joplin. Her band – as good a Blues / Rock outfit as there has ever been.
That said …
Lucinda Williams is no slouch either. In fact – ‘singing’ slouches must be far removed from this woman’s genealogy. Combining strength, emotions and wistfulness, Williams had the crowd stunned for an entire evening once she opened her mouth and commenced singing. In modern day female singers, there are three who can do that. Bonnie Raitt, Emmylou Harris and ..
” Something Wicked This Way Comes’ and ‘Bus to Baton Rouge’ got things going when suddenly, the set’s road trip veered slightly off course. During the song ‘ Car Wheels on a Gravel Road’ – Williams’ microphone cut out faster than a girl on a bad date. Not knowing – Williams kept singing while guitarist Mathis signaled the tech to rectify the situation. With true professionalism – Mathis, Norton and Sutton kept Williams’ vehicle on pavement throughout the slight mishap.
Lucinda Williams has an innate ability to be human. Where artists such as Madonna, Gaga and others of different genres sail into ‘plastic’ territory, Lucinda manages to be real. Innocence and child-like curiosity shine through in her vocals as well as her lyrics.
‘Crescent City’ carried Williams to showcase her innocence both musically and lyrically in the song ‘When I Look at the World’. The audience, Lucinda and her voice – alone in retrospection. The song ‘Drunken Angel’ magnified ( and allowed ) Williams’ personal tragedies into public domain. The tale of her friend, ‘dying an early death’ made the audience reach for their Country hankies.
Then – that band who rival Cream? In the forefront once again with the tune ‘Are You Down’.
Mathis’ guitar playing otherworldly. Sutton’s bass? Deep, sharp, funky and grounding. Drummer Norton drove the message of Blues and Rock into the audience with subtle hardness. It is about the spaces in any genre. It’s all about the feeling and rarely does a chemistry exist as it does in Williams’ trio.
‘Lake Charles’ was written about an ex-boyfriend, another ‘troublemaker’ or ‘lost soul ‘ in Lucinda’s life. Given the glimpse into Williams’ own soul last night , collecting troubled people, poignant for their lyrical properties.
‘Get Right With God’ introduced Country music and GOSPEL to a crowd UNAWARE THE PAIR HAVE BEEN MATCHED FOR DECADES. Williams’ vocals teetering on a crucial musical seesaw as they did all night. The crowd witnessing a blessed evening of music and appreciating the education and moments of bliss.
‘ Rockin’ in the Free World’ – the encore, poignant as a stalker for ‘Get right with God’.
Neil Young’s anthem no better a follow up with it’s anti-corporate and non demonic messages. Williams seemed charged by both the energy of her band and Young’s lyrics. At evening’s end – the sixty-two year old Southern Belle pumped a fist into the air and told anyone ( everybody ) within earshot; ‘People Have the Power!’