An Ear for Soulful Instrumentation
But, as lush as the horns and rhythm section appear, Earle's vocals tend to fall a little short on this disc, veering often toward poor intonation and wavering emotion. This works strongly on more upbeat tunes like "Baby's Got a Bad Idea" (purchase/download), "Memphis in the Rain" (purchase/download), etc., where the blues is front and center and the grit of the pace seems to call for the tone of Earle's shaky and raw vocals.
On slower songs, however (and the album kicks off with one), his voice comes off like a lanky, stretched-out frame dragging around in a too-big suit. It's hard to listen in those moments, as the pain seems all too real and at the fore, as if he just lost sleep about all this last night. Maybe that's the point - after all, the disc's title (Nothing's Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now) hints at a certain level of hopeless resignation. But, for more sensitive ears, it causes the disc to come off a bit less listenable than his previous efforts. Long-time fans who have championed his old school country, polished appeal will no doubt bristle at this rawness.
The Bottom Line
It's not a sunny record, neither in lyrics nor instrumentation, and it will no doubt be an adjustment for those who cottoned to his work through The Good Life, Midnight at the Movies, or even Harlem River Blues (the latter two were, of course, also no frolic in the park).
That said, though, Nothing's Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now is a strong artistic statement from a man who seems to be finding his rather strong artistic voice, away from the traditions which raised him and the unavoidable comparisons to the remarkable work of his father Steve Earle. You may not have this one in heavy rotation this year (or ever), but it'll be a great disc to take out and spin when you need to be reminded of the depths to which music can take you, and from which it can rescue your heart.