Yet despite the long shadow those two songwriters cast, the younger Earle has always forged his own path musically, a path that has typically been much more country than that of either his father or his namesake. However, on his latest record, "Nothing's Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now," he diverges from that country road and channels a Memphis soul sound.
Earle has spoken both of the similarities between chord progressions in soul and country music, and of the fact that both musical genres have roots in the church, in gospel and worship songs. So, the move from a Nashville to a Memphis sound was a logical one for him, and the record was even recorded in a converted church. Produced by Earle and "Harlem River Blues" co-producer Skylar Wilson, it was recorded live in the studio (no overdubs), over a four-day period in Asheville, N.C. Their intention was to create a collection of songs that were both timely and timeless.
Still, Earle seems burdened by his familial connections. The record opens with "Am I That Lonely Tonight?" as he sings the first line, "Hear my father on the radio, singing 'Take me Home again.'" A subtle horn section swells behind the singer's vocal, underscoring the forlorn feeling that pervades the song and the record overall. The horns serve that same purpose throughout, as on "Look the Other Way," a sad, albeit more hopeful, tune about trying to get the attention of a woman. He could be a better man for her, but she always looks the other way.
There are some upbeat songs here too, such as "Baby's Got a Bad Idea," but many of the songs are slower numbers; quiet tunes and hushed confessionals that offer a glimpse into a conflicted and desolate world of heartache and loneliness. The record finds a groove, however, as on "Down On the Lower East Side" with its jazzy beat, brushed snare and muted trumpet. But in spite of arrangements and the Memphis soul spirit, it never really swings until nearly the end, with the rollicking "Memphis in the Rain," one of the best songs on the album.
Earle brings a lot of emotional weight to his lyrics, and by the end of the record it seems he's at least worked through some of his issues as he closes the album with "Movin' On." With a great walking bass line and simple supporting harmonica, Earle sings, "I'm trying to move on," and the listener feels he really means it.
"Nothing's Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now," is a solid effort from talented young singer-songwriter. If a record like this is the result of Earle "movin' on" from his country and Americana roots, then it will be fascinating to see what musical direction he heads in next.
"Look the Other Way" - Justin Townes Earle