Single Mothers
Vagrant Records

After the old-time country stylings of his 2008 debut, The Good Life, Justin Townes Earle has diverged from that sawdust-covered path in favor of a more crooning, grooving catalog. The stylish son of Steve Earle’s new album, Single Mothers, is a 10-tune collection that continues in the vein of his last two, 2010’s Harlem River Blues and 2012’s Nothing’s Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now, as an exploration of soul-inspired Americana with only occasional country flourishes — most notably with some stunning pedal steel work. Earle’s sound here is not unlike that of fellow folk-soul artists Ray Lamontagne or Amos Lee, but his voice isn’t quite hearty and bold enough to bellow out the liveliest vibes on its own; fortunately, the instrumentation carries much of the weight, as on the genuinely butt-shaking, head-bobbing muscular boogie-woogie of “My Baby Drives.” The softer songs, such as “White Gardenias,” suit Earle’s vocals more attractively. His voice shows real character as it carries some crackling pain in the sparsely adorned, acoustic “It’s Cold in This House,” in which he sings about not needing his phone as he has no one to call. Other highlights include the drumbeat-happy “Time Shows Fools” and the breezy “Wanna be a Stranger,” both of which owe far more to the cinderblock buildings of Muscle Shoals than to the more country-leaning rooms of Nashville or Austin. — KELLY DEARMORE

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