“I said some things that I shouldn’t have said,” Justin Townes Earle drastically understates on the title track of his fourth full-length album. That’s especially true when viewed in the context of his rocky battles with addiction over the years. Following his most recent incident, in which he was arrested in September 2010 for public drunkenness and battery, he entered rehab for a few weeks and resumed touring before the year was out.
But, with a little luck, people learn from their mistakes. Earle, who turned 30 this year, had a relatively productive 2011, obscuring those unfortunate headlines by taking part in a Buddy Holly tribute, playing a few live dates and working on this album. As a song collection, it’s more subdued than 2010′s excellent, accomplished Harlem River Blues, the “Memphis-soul direction” Earle promised early this year revealed to be a bit of exaggerated PR.
Nothing’s Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now hits remarkable high points. The rollicking, horn-dappled “Baby’s Got a Bad Idea” stands out, as does the hip-swinging “Memphis in the Rain,” which shows off Earle’s gruff baritone. It’s heavy on understated ballads, which he pulls off better than many country singers twice his age. The shadow of his father, Steve, hangs heavy over everything, as it has on Earle’s previous releases, with references to the veteran songwriter’s material bookending the record’s 10 songs. “I’m tryin’ to move on,” the younger Earle sings on the final song. This record is the first step.