Don’t let the tattoos and burning cigarettes fool you. Justin Townes Earle may sport a tough demeanor, but, after peeling away the layers, there’s plenty of evidence that Earle has seen a lot more life at his age than many.

The fast-rising Americana songwriter from Nashville has been cast the mixed lot of being the son of famous country singer-songwriter Steve Earle. Just ask Jakob Dylan or Ben Taylor — it may seem like rock royalty pedigree is a golden ticket to stardom, but often the big shoes to fill only lead to fiercer fights with the man in the mirror.

“I got my first record deal offered when I was 18,” admits Earle, who plays Port City Music Hall in Portland on Tuesday. “Looking back on the songs I had and the way I looked at life at the time, there’s no way I could have made a good record or sustained a tour. I was so into drinking and drugs at the time.”

So, in the heart of his 20s, when many of us decide whether to shape up or not, Earle committed himself to honoring a demanding tour schedule and proving to himself that he could step out of a massive shadow.

It helped that he was largely raised away from the tumultuous career of his father. The elder Earle is a political firebrand, no stranger to vice himself, and a writer with a bone to pick. Justin is soft-spoken and master of his rough-and-tumble Tennessee craft, but was reared more on the values and ideas of his mother.

“To be honest, she was the one who taught me how to shave and what to say to girls,” he says. “I emerged from my childhood with the perspective and the worldview of my mother.”

“Harlem River Blues,” Earle’s most recent, most fully realized effort, reflects this nuanced softness, as lifting gospel-flecked blues wander through lonely streets. It’s an easy, if deeply affecting, listen.

To paint the sad colors that show up all over Earle’s record, he draws on the styles of many of his father’s forebears and contemporaries, seemingly trying to shake country music from its current slick corporate trappings.

” ‘Thunder Road’ was the first perfect song to me,” he says. “The way (Bruce Springsteen) lays out the story, you can picture this girl dancing across the porch. I heard that song when I was 15 years old, and that’s when I really became interested in that type of imagery-based songwriting.”

With his gentle “Rogers Park,” a tune scratched raw with the same brand of longing, it seems Earle must have picked up a thing or two from the Boss.

When Earle takes the stage at Port City Music Hall, it won’t be the first time he’s passed through town. In fact, he recalls his time here with nicely conflicted rock-star aplomb.

“I love Portland; it’s beautiful,” he said. “I was arrested here in 2003, hauled off from a hotel after my dad’s show.”

He shares this memory with a well-earned chuckle. Despite the growing pains of being a rough cowboy’s kid, Earle returns to Portland as an accomplished professional — his own man, with his own songs.

Mike Olcott is a freelance writer who lives in Portland and Boston.