On his new album Single Mothers
(Vagrant), Justin Townes Earle
seems to have shed his tendency to move from style to style with each song he's recorded, settling, more or less, on a study hybrid of 60s soul and country-rock. On his recordings for Bloodshot, I enjoyed the way he moved around the musical map so restlessly because he always sounded like himself, whether trying on honky-tonk, gospel, or rockabilly. His lovely rasp, which continues to remind me of both Paul Westerberg and Jeff Tweedy, imparted more than enough personality to balance a certain stylistic schizophrenia. The consistency of the new record is a bit disappointing on the surface, and it reflects a new stability in the singer's life: since his last record in 2012 he's gotten sober and gotten married, things that would hopefully curb the uncertainty and unhappiness that made his earlier songs compelling. But while Earle may be less tormented, his craft has never been clearer. Today's 12 O'Clock Track
is "White Gardenias," one of the album's prettiest and saddest songs—and proof that he's hasn't stopped writing about heartbreak and emotional torpor. Earle arrives in Chicago tomorrow for a show at the Park West
in support of the new record.