In the midst of strong reviews of his last album, Harlem River Blues, Justin Townes Earle made the kind of splash he undoubtedly did not want to make. For various reasons, Earle entered re-hab (again) for drug addiction. I mention this mainly as a reference point for the songwriting on the album. While there are few (if any) outright lyrical references to drug abuse, “Nothing’s . . .” songs certainly reflect a frustration that is in line with Earle’s recent circumstances. It’s an album of sad, frustrated, lonely songs; luckily, it’s from a guy who is a strong enough songwriter to make it work.
These songs speak to a need to change as well as the difficulty of accomplishing that change (The chorus of the album’s closer is, “I’m trying to move on.”). The mood is so consistent it might make the album a little difficult to get into for some. Then again, it may make it a favorite for others (I can tell you that it’s a great one to play on a rainy day.).
The songs speak to failed relationships more than anything else, which makes them much more universally accessible than they might otherwise be. The tempo varies from slow to up-tempo, and the arrangements, which include a horn section reflect Earle’s interest in Memphis Soul. The sound fits Earle well – with one exception. For whatever reason, his vocals sound strained here. It’s not a deal breaker, but it is noticeable — especially on an upbeat song like “Baby’s Got a Bad Idea.”
Earle’s a great songwriter, and I’m sure there are plenty of us waiting for him to release a truly great album. I don’t think this is it, but it’s a strong song cycle none the less. He continues to broaden the scope of his music, which can make it hard to accept a new album, but probably makes it better in the end.