By Lauren Sloss | March 29th, 2012
When trying to explain to my indie music-loving friends why I love country music, I refer to country legends of old. Johnny Cash. Merle Haggard. Steve Earle. The rawness of their emotion, the brutal honesty of their lyrics, the distinctly American sound to their twang.
I think now, I’ll just direct them straight to a contemporary troubadour, Justin Townes Earle. Yes, that last name should look familiar — JTE has one famous daddy, and whether that informs his musical style or inspires him to rebel, I don’t know. I don’t really care. Because his latest effort, Nothing’s Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Now, is an album so rife with pain, with heartbreak, with that brutal honesty that makes good country music so effective, that I’d rather just sit back and listen rather than question the source of his hurt.
A follow up to 2010′s Harlem River Blues, Nothing’s Gonna Change lacks the clap-happy singles that made his last release such a pleasure, and such fun, to listen to. Now, Earles’ vocals are scratchy and raw; his vocal chords sound shredded by too many cigarettes, dulled by crying, and marinated with whiskey. The baldness of his singing is offset by lush arrangements — here, a swell of horns, there, a wave of string instruments. This is country music for the grit downtown New York, a midnight cowboy without the sex.
“Am I That Lonely Tonight” (mentioning some hard feelings towards his father, among others) and “Nothing’s Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Now” are upfront about their sadness in their titles, but while effective, the tracks don’t inspire desperation. And the album isn’t completely filled with sadness — “Baby’s Got A Bad Idea” rings with rockabilly guitar and pounding piano chords. “Maria” makes use of those marvelous horns and showcase Earles’ excellent guitar skills, while “Lower East Side” plays like a slinky, smoke-filled lounge act. But there is no escaping the baldness of his emotion in “Won’t Be The Last Time,” as his voice noticeably quavers over the vibration of a haunting cello.
This may not be a feel-good collection but tracks, but it is, unquestionably, an album that compels. Will I listen to it as regularly as Harlem River Blues? Probably not. But I will keep coming back to it, and will, I’m certain, hear something new in it each time.