Justin Townes Earle: Single Mothers

Single Mothers sounds like something you would expect from Earle: a carefully calculated and cohesive product.

Justin Townes Earle

Single Mothers

Label: Vagrant
US Release Date: 2014-09-09
UK Release Date: 2014-09-22

For those of you who follow Justin Townes Earle on Twitter, you are probably aware that last December he had a falling out with a record label. To make a seemingly long story short: he had just finished his contract with Bloodshot Records, started working with Communion Records (which is co-owned by Ben Lovett from Mumford & Sons), was told that he was supposed to write 30 songs and let Communion help dwindle them down to form an album, felt disrespected and got mad, which lead to them having a nasty split. It was a quick bounce back, obviously, since less than a year later, he just dropped Single Mothers, his fifth-full length, on Vagrant Records. And unlike letting a label pick and choose what songs make one of his records, Single Mothers actually sounds like something you would expect from him: a carefully calculated and cohesive product. And this one dives further into the Memphis soul direction that he went with on the previous album, Nothing’s Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now, with an added country-blues twist.

The thing that I’ve always respected about Justin Townes Earle is that he does’t have a filter. Not in his songs, not in interviews. Artistically, especially on the last few albums, he hasn’t felt the need to hide. He’s been open about substance abuse (he’s now clean), family issues, loneliness, marriage, newfound happiness and everything in-between. Sure, a lot of the subjects of his songs are characters, but there’s always a slice of himself there. And it’s honest. He writes what he knows, what he see, which usually result in seedy stories of the American underbelly, but on this album, there’s some optimism, some humor, showing that his music is growing alongside his personal life.

Listeners who were immediately drawn to Nothing’s Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now are going to be quicker to receive Single Mothers. But if, like me, the catchy folk melodies from his early stuff were more your speed, you’ll probably still going to fall for this one as well, but it might take a few listens for it to click. The opener, “Worried About the Weather” is a breezy heartbreaker in that rich, soulful croon that has become his trademark over the past couple years. “My Baby Drives” is a piece of boogie R&B that sounds like what JJ Cale might have if he’d of grown up in Tennessee. “Wanna Be a Stranger” seems like the sweet spot where he brings his humble, sparse singer-songwriter past together with his rich, layered present and it’s a song that seems to get better with every listen. “White Gardenias” is a Billie Holiday-inspired, melancholy bit of loneliness that makes you remember that he’s one of the best young Americana songwriters in the game.

Justin Townes Earle’s musical evolution has seemed incredibly natural since he released his debut EP Yuma in 2007. He’s almost released an album a year and each of them is different, but more in an inch-by-inch sort of way, where he carefully tweaks his sound instead of trying to reinvent himself. What we’re seeing here with Justin Townes Earle is an artist finding his sound, not an artist who’s simply trying to find a way to stay relevant.





Ivy Mix's 'Spirits of Latin America' Evokes the Ancestors

A common thread unites Ivy Mix's engaging Spirits of Latin America; "the chaotic intermixture between indigenous and European traditions" is still an inextricable facet of life for everyone who inhabits the "New World".


Contemporary Urbanity and Blackness in 'New Jack City'

Hood films are a jarring eviction notice for traditional Civil Rights rhetoric and, possibly, leadership -- in other words, "What has the Civil Rights movement done for me lately?"


'How to Handle a Crowd' Goes to the Moderators

Anika Gupta's How to Handle a Crowd casts a long-overdue spotlight on the work that goes into making online communities enjoyable and rewarding.


Regis' New LP Reaffirms His Gift for Grinding Industrial Terror

Regis' music often feels so distorted, so twisted out of shape, even the most human moments feel modular. Voices become indistinguishable from machines on Hidden in This Is the Light That You Miss.


DMA's Go for BritElectroPop on 'The Glow'

Aussie Britpoppers the DMA's enlist Stuart Price to try their hand at electropop on The Glow. It's not their best look.


On Infinity in Miranda July's 'Me and You and Everyone We Know'

In a strange kind of way, Miranda July's Me and You and Everyone We Know is about two competing notions of "forever" in relation to love.


Considering the Legacy of Deerhoof with Greg Saunier

Working in different cities, recording parts as MP3s, and stitching them together, Deerhoof once again show total disregard for the very concept of genre with their latest, Future Teenage Cave Artists.


Joshua Ray Walker Is 'Glad You Made It'

Texas' Joshua Ray Walker creates songs on Glad You Made It that could have been on a rural roadhouse jukebox back in the 1950s. Their quotidian concerns sound as true now as they would have back then.


100 gecs Remix Debut with Help From Fall Out Boy, Charli XCX and More

100 gecs' follow up their debut with a "remix album" stuffed with features, remixes, covers, and a couple of new recordings. But don't worry, it's just as blissfully difficult as their debut.


What 'Avatar: The Last Airbender' Taught Me About Unlearning Toxic Masculinity

When I first came out as trans, I desperately wanted acceptance and validation into the "male gender", and espoused negative beliefs toward my femininity. Avatar: The Last Airbender helped me transcend that.


Nu Deco Ensemble and Kishi Bashi Remake "I Am the Antichrist to You" (premiere + interview)

Nu Deco Ensemble and Kishi Bashi team up for a gorgeous live performance of "I Am the Antichrist to You", which has been given an orchestral renovation.


Rock 'n' Roll with Chinese Characteristics: Nirvana Behind the Great Wall

Like pretty much everywhere else in the pop music universe, China's developing rock scene changed after Nirvana. It's just that China's rockers didn't get the memo in 1991, nor would've known what to do with it, then.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.