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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Earle explores darker regions, new sound

Thursday, April 12, 2012

To any readers of my reviews, it's no real secret that I have a few favorite bands. When certain artists release just about anything, I'm going to listen and I'm probably going to like it.

I've never claimed I'm impartial as a listener.

But none of this is to say the praise I heap on certain artists is not merited.

And so it is with Justin Townes Earle's "Nothing's Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now," released March 27 on Bloodshot Records. Even as he continues to grapple his turbulent life, the singer-songwriter continues to show remarkable growth with each new album.

(Photo)
On his new record "Nothing's Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now," Justin Townes Earle turns to Memphis soul music.
(Courtesy of Bloodshot Records)
On his fourth full-length record, Earle turns to soul, with horns on nearly every song carrying his sound away from the rockabilly, folk and bluegrass that marked earlier releases.

"I think that it'st ht job of the artist to be in transition and constantly learn more," Earle said. "The new record is completely different than my last one, 'Harlem River Blues.' This time I've gon in a Memphis-soul direction."

The irony of "Nothing's Gonna Change" is that everything changes. While Earle hinted at new directions on previous songs such as "Midnight at the Movies" and "Christchurch Woman," never has his music taken such a drastic turn.

"Baby's Got a Bad Idea" and "Look the Other Way" feature larger arrangements than heard on previous Earle releases, bringing a different sort of energy than has been heard on those albums.

The muted trumpet on "Down on the Lower East Side" gives an otherwise downer of a song a somewhat whimsical feel. Even as the lyrics describe terrible loneliness, the horn makes you smile.

Herein may lie the more fundamental irony of the record. While soul music is by no means always happy, it's rhythm and tempo keep the listener's toes tapping, even when the words are sad.

The presence of the horns much of the time, though, make the tracks without them stand out even more. "Won't Be the Last Time" and "Movin' On" have some of the most poignant lyrics on the record, and they stand out from the rest of the record because of their arrangements.

One of the most impressive facts about the record is the recording process Earle and collaborator Skylar Wilson used. All 10 tracks were recorded absolutely live -- no overdubs -- in a converted church in the North Carolina mountains.

When the listener considers the more complex arrangements that horn sections, piano, organ, multiple guitars, bass and drums require, it's an impressive feat.

"The whole idea was to record everything live, make everything as real as it could be, and putting something out there that will hopefully stand the test of time and space," Earle said.

Mission accomplished.

My spin: A-

With "Nothing's Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now," Justin Townes Earle has added an intriguing new chapter to his discography. The weathered timbre of his voice testifies to the tortured nature of so many of the lyrics.

Even so, the music itself makes you smile.