His music treads ground familiar to many an alt-country songwriter, its mournful take on failure and bleak times informed by his own well-documented problems with drugs. For all the darkness of his material though, Justin Townes Earle is a charming stage presence, his between-song patter taking in the worst place he's every lived ("Brooklyn, New York"), his favourite things ("baseball, fried chicken, and the woman that I love"), and his memory ("I had to Google lyrics for this show").

Earle plays up his own slackness, pausing to ask his supporting guitarist Paul Niehaus what they're meant to be playing, or being stopped by Niehaus and reminded to adjust his capo. He is equally downbeat about his picking, claiming at different points that he knows "about six chords", that his guitar "is really fucked up" and that he only seems like a good guitarist as his playing is "weird". But the combination of Earle's laidback singing and acoustic playing and Niehaus's sharp electric notes is stunning and more than fills the cavernous inside of the Union Chapel.

Sometimes his openness as a songwriter makes Earle's honesty become something aproaching un-comfortableness for listeners. (His two recent albums are titled 'Absent Fathers' and 'Single Mothers', respectively, and his music always appears deeply personal). But his charm carries him through these darker moments on stage, notably on some solo songs in a middle section that Earle labels "the downer part of the show."

With Neihaus back on stage things take a louder turn, and the gig builds a rousing head of steam by the end of the show. Apart from a rare misstep represented by a slightly odd cover of Fleetwood Mac's 'Dreams', a Marmite number if ever there was one, Earle doesn't put a foot wrong in a charming and accomplished performance.

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Commenting On: Union Chapel, London, 6/2/2015 - Justin Townes Earle

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