|Photo by: Rollingstone.com|
Key Tracks: "Am I That Lonely Tonight?," "Maria," "Unfortunately, Anna"
For some people, reputation precedes them; for others, it’s a product of self-creation; for Justin Townes Earle, a mix of both seems to be the case. Son of legendary folk artist Steve Earle, this rootsy banjo-plucker follows closely in his father’s wake. After his 2010 release Harlem River Blues, the younger Earle found himself perched at the top of the Nashville bluegrass scene and a force to be reckoned with in the realm of folk singer-songwriters. Sadly, Earle had another reason to get people talking: only three days after Harlem River Blues’ release, the artist found himself arrested for battery, public intoxication and resisting authorities after a rocky show in Indianapolis.
Altercations with the law aside, Earle’s newest release, Nothing's Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now, doesn’t have the carefree, jovial feel of albums past, but rightfully so; the 30-year-old knows what people think and isn’t asking for forgiveness. All he asks is for an audience to lend an ear.
In a genre of music where there’s always a narrative to be told, it seems Earle has an uncanny knack for bringing both painful reality and deep reflection into his lyrics. Struggles with addiction, notoriety and unrealistic expectations can be heard in Earle’s words. Opening the album begins a crooning Earle: “There’s just something in a night like this that can be so hard to take.” Wrapped in saxophone and hearty string instruments, Earle ruefully admits, “I thought I’d be a better man.”
Not to be too much of a downer, though, the next track, “Look the Other Way,” is a jazz-laden, soulful number with just the right amount of raw emotion, claiming “I’ve done all I can do to change.” Earle’s gift of storytelling really shines in tracks like this one and “Maria,” a jaunty tune highlighted by keys and guitars that tells the story of love lost and never again found.
For a long drive out west (or anywhere far off, really) “Memphis in the Rain” and “Unfortunately, Anna” are perfectly suited traveling tunes for hopeless wanderers and get-the-hell-out-of-dodge beatniks. The latter of the two tracks is a swelling narrative that reaches down into your heartstrings and beautifully captures the brilliance of well-thought country music. Twinged with brutal honesty and piano keys, Earle’s raspy voice pleads “Please, baby just drive.”
The only part of Nothing's Gonna Change that seems to be off-kilter is the earlier track “Baby’s Got a Bad Idea.” Though it’s a danceable ragtime jaunt with a ton of Elvis-inspired flavor, it doesn’t seem to mesh with the rest of the album, rich with anecdotes and snapshots of Earle’s not-so-carefree life. Fortunately, it seems to be the only track added for fluff factor and doesn’t detract much from the rest of the lush landscape of folk.
Closing the album with “Movin’ On,” Earle comes to peace with the ghosts of his past. Swirling with harmonica, it’s Earle’s last attempt at feeling any sorrier for himself than he has to.
Nothing's Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now is raw, and while maybe not guaranteed to generate any new hits for the fallen folk prince, is a sort of therapy that was much needed. A complete work of storytelling handcrafted by one of the finest in the Tennessee folk business, Justin Townes Earle continues to define himself as a one-of-a-kind orator.
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