By: Evan Yerega
Americana artist Justin Dean Thomas has a backstory for the ages. Originally from Boston, Thomas spent his early days hitchhiking across the country, immersing himself in the disparate musical stylings of the backcountry, and performing wherever he could, be it a subway or club. Having soaked up the influences of his travels, Thomas (who looks something like the lovechild of James Dean and Justin Townes Earle) laid roots in NYC and emerged as a road-wearied, harmonica-toting troubadour with a timeless sound.
Originally appearing on folk maestro Gillian Welch’s 1998 opus Hell Among the Yearlings, “I’m Not Afraid to Die” is a spellbinding hymn that, simply put, is not of this Earth. To call covering this song a tall order would be an understatement, at best. So, what does Thomas do? Takes out the Oh Brother Where Art Thou-ness of the original, puts his busker past to good use, and, for lack of a better word, Nebraska-fies it, of course. The sparse arrangement somehow makes Welch’s ‘thirty years past it’s time’ version seem modern in comparison. He hasn’t necessarily dramatically changed the tone of the song, but has, in effect, made it all his own — quite a feat, indeed. Be on the lookout for his solo album to drop sometime in the near future. For a 180-degree experience, check out Thomas’s range in his other project, the rock and roll band The Bowery Riots, where he sings and plays lead guitar.
Listen to the live demo of “I’m Not Afraid to Die” below on Soundcloud and keep on the look out for Justin Dean Thomas’s solo album later this year.