Justin Townes Earle

Single Mothers

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One of the most winning qualities about Justin Townes Earle's music has been its modesty; his best work is dominated by an easy, unforced groove that's part Memphis and part Nashville, and the music doesn't get in the way of the lyrics but glides side by side with a subtle insistence. While Earle generated a cool Stax-gone-acoustic sound on 2012's Nothing's Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now, 2014's Single Mothers eases back into a spectral, middle-of-the-night sound, with Earle backed by a low-key three-piece band and the pedal steel guitar adding a mournful tone to most of these songs of lonely lives and broken hearts. (The simple approach matches the album's brevity, which comes in a mere 30 minutes.) The spare, often stark surfaces of the arrangements and production on Single Mothers make a set of sad songs sound all the more downbeat, and Earle's reputation for hurtin' songs isn't about to change when folks hear this album; "Picture in a Drawer" and "White Gardenias" are abject tales of romantic rejection, "My Baby Drives" is a witty number with a painful subtext, "Worried Bout the Weather" uses an oncoming storm as a striking metaphor for unrequited love, and the title track about busted marriages and the emotional toll on everyone involved is all the more difficult to hear when one knows how much it mirrors Earle's own life experiences. There are moments where Single Mothers feels like art therapy as much as music, but this album communicates its pain with intelligence and a gentle touch, and as a singer and lyricist Earle grows with each album; there are more than a few moments of brilliance on this set if you don't mind sharing a rough and lonesome road with Earle for a while.

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