Album Review: Justin Townes Earle ‘Nothing’s Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Now’
The album opens with Justin Townes Earle wearing his heart not just on his sleeve, but holding it in an outstretched hand. He begins ‘Am I That Lonely Tonight’ by setting the scene of sitting alone and listening to the music of his father, Steve Earle, wishing for the phone to ring.
It’s a very introspective album, delving into issues of broken relationships with his parents and the women he has loved, and the struggles he has developed on his own. He never hesitates to go there, he’s never vague, and he never stops short.
Justin Townes Earle has a fantastic, powerful voice for this kind of music, and it really shows in the more rock n’ roll moments, such as on ‘Baby’s Got a Bad Idea’, when he pushes his rasp out to the forefront. It’s more subtle, but equally effective in the coolly reflective songs which dominate this album, keeping them from being too pretty.
Nothing’s Gonna Change… is primarily a folk record, but delves into classic rock, bluegrass and jazz, without having to travel very far at all. You can hear the music of his father in these songs, and the maturity of a songwriter who, at just 30 years of age, has visited with a lot of pain.
He has a somewhat cold way of looking at past love and relationships. “Things change, babe, such as my feelings for you,” he sings very matter-of-factly on the title track. On ‘Won’t Be The Last Time’ he confesses, “I took just what I wanted from that pretty little thing.” He seems simultaneously detached from and hungup on these feelings, and this sort of internal conflict lends itself very well to his strong and artful lyrics.
The songs are all very short, mostly around 2 minutes and 30 seconds long, harkening back to the early days of popular music when 5 minute songs were sprawling epics. Some tracks on Nothing’s Gonna Change… feel like they end too soon, though they are not necessarily incomplete; rather, they tend to be over just when you’re really starting to get into them. The entire album runs only about 32 minutes.
Many of the songs lack any real hook, perhaps as a result of their brevity, or maybe that’s the reason for it. Maybe it isn’t strictly needed for this sort of crooning. 50s and 60s rock tunes were great because they packed a strong punch into a very tight package, but this album is sometimes a little plodding and musically uninteresting. At times it can sound like a jam session with a bottle of bourbon, but maybe that’s the point, and there is a subtle depth and richness to the way the songs are crafted.
‘Memphis In The Rain’ presents perhaps the most complete, effective, and quite catchy song of the lot, complete with a bridge and a second act to sate the listener. It’s still only 2:28, but in that time it does everything I find myself wishing some of the others would. ‘Unfortunately Anna’ builds to its conclusion without need for a verse-chorus-verse structure.
These are songs of a very personal nature, and it makes sense for them not to be overly produced, or to try to be anything more than what they are. Justin Townes Earle very obviously has a natural gift with music, to be able to pull out the sounds he needs at any given moment and help create the perfect image to go with his poetry. It can be gutting, but it’s also beautiful, and always honest.