If you still haven’t listened to Harlem River Blues, Nashville heir-to-the-Americana throne Justin Townes Earle’s 2010 album, go do that first, before you get into Nothing’s Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now. It was one of the best albums released that year, and it got the critical attention it deserves, but three days after its release, Earle found himself in trouble with the law, arrested for battery, public drunkenness and resisting arrest after an altercation with venue staff at Radio Radio in Indianapolis.
Personal struggles with addiction and troubles with the law, not to mention the connection of his folk-royalty father, Steve Earle, have meant that Earle the Younger, gifted as he is, has always had a specific narrative attached to him and his music. It’s not like this is anything new—musicians, especially in such a story-driven genre like folk—are forever at the mercy of the narratives, mythologies and personal demons to which they are tied, making the title of this album all the more apt. When that statement is sung on the title track, a wistful, shuffling ode to a dissolving relationship, it’s with an insistence and almost a sense of calm, as if Earle, too, is letting us know that he’s more than aware of what we all think of him, of the narratives attached to him, and he’s alright with that.
This is where we’re at with Justin Townes Earle, who opens his latest album with the line, “Hear my father on the radio, singin’ ‘Take Me Home Again,’” following up with “Sometimes I wish that I could get away / sometimes I wish that he’d just call” and a sighed “I thought I’d be a better man.” That self-awareness comes into play again, and Earle lays it all down for us less than a minute into the album, and beautifully, amid gentle, echo-y electric picking and mournful horns that wind around his words like the Carolina coast he references.
The gentle, plaintive beauty of the first track makes the mood whiplash of the next track, the driving sax-and-keys boogie of “Baby’s Got A Bad Idea,” all the more jarring. Again, Earle recounts his flaws and uses the “I wish I were a better man” line, but this time it’s about a woman, and his longing and frustration seems to grow with every growl and wail and admission he watches her while she sleeps. Women appear in abundance on this record, from the poppy “Maria,” a long-lost, whiskey-addled cousin of the Wallflowers’ “One Headlight” to the mama ignoring her mournful, broken son on the depressing but extremely catchy “Look the Other Way.” “Unfortunately, Anna” is the best track in this trope—Earle approaches his story (the classic, desperate, Springsteenian “get me out of this small-town hellhole and set me free upon the open road” kind of scenario) with empathy and power. The burn is slow and inviting, and by the second “carry me out into the night,” the song takes hold. It’s not exactly a new trope, but it’s one in which Earle shows he can tell a good story. Earle tells his protagonist “it’s you who needs to change,” and the album comes full circle, from wishing for self-improvement to declaring it.
Nothing’s Gonna Change… is ultimately the kind of album you can curl up into, let the warm tones surround you and rest easy—not in a The King of Limbs, “this-album-made-me-fall-asleep” way like but in a way that makes you feel like, “damn, everything feels right about now.”
At the risk of sounding like a jerk, Earle’s album title is true. Nothing will change the way we feel about him: he will forever be tied to his father, his mythos, his demons, but above all, his ability to make really wonderful music. Nothing will change how we feel about him, and in his case, that’s a good thing.