When finding his own voice meant turning his back on country music - at least a bit - the blues and soul that rushed in to fill the void became the foundation for Justin Townes Earle's artistic growth.
Touring in the downtime after Nothing's Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now, Earle thrives in that sophisticated hybrid that draws partly on the tradition of his famous father (and middle namesake) and partly on other branches of American roots music that he found on his own.
Opening with two solo acoustic songs, "They Killed John Henry" and "Wanderin,'" Earle trod the path of early American folksingers, like Woody Guthrie, who he said inspired the latter. The solo songs stood in as a moment of proof for Earle, showing he'd learned the traditions and the rules that he'd go on to break.
Welcoming his band - including Calexico's Paul Niehaus on guitar and pedal steel - Earle jumped into "Farther From Me," a new song that builds on the glorious country-soul mix of Nothing's Gonna Change and Harlem River Blues.
Earle stuck mostly to those last two albums, but picked out earlier gems as well, like "Midnight at the Movies" and "Mama's Eyes," one of the many songs in his catalog that explores the question of identity through the kaleidoscopic lens of his fucked-up childhood and adolescence.
Earle introduced another new song, "Single Mothers," with a crack about the absent father of his childhood, and though he sounds at peace with the subject, it's clearly still songwriting material. In the encore, Earle played Townes Van Zandt's "Rex's Blues," saying, "My dad does this song too, but I can play it in a higher key."
Fellow Nashvillian Caitlin Rose opened for Earle with her own unique hybrid of America's tangled roots traditions. With a gorgeously powerful voice, Rose is on the way to stardom herself, and catching the 25-year-old singer in a supporting slot on her first Tucson show was a treat in itself.
With her emotive and melodic singing, Rose led her band through songs like "Pink Champagne," "Silver Sings," "Menagerie" and "Old Numbers," all highlights from her just-released second album, The Stand-In, a tasteful mix of country and pop.