JUSTIN TOWNES EARLE/TIFT MERRITT
Prodigal son of a prodigal father, Justin Townes Earle shares with his old man an air of hard-won wisdom forged from a turbulent past. His old man, of course, is maverick roots rocker Steve Earle, and the elder Earle’s deadpan growl echoes in Justin’s gravelly, broken-hearted drawl. Still, with other influences ranging from Woody Guthrie to Kurt Cobain, the younger Earle is an artist eternally in transition. His latest LP, Nothing’s Gonna Change the Way You Feel about Me Now, finds him stepping away from his early affinity for rockabilly bravado in the direction of Memphis soul. Fittingly recorded in a converted Asheville church, the new material draws heavily from liturgical music, boasting a heavy Hammond B-3 sound. With haunting songs dripping raw self-awareness, Earle has clearly found his voice, but his power lies in the admission that he’s still finding his way. Tourmate Tift Merritt emerged from Raleigh’s late-’90s alt-country scene, drawing favorable comparisons to Emmylou Harris and finding an early champion in Ryan Adams. Her latest LP is titled Traveling Alone, but lately a lot of folks have been jumping on her bandwagon. Still, acceptance from the orthodox Nashville crowd hasn’t blunted the intimate emotional power of Merrittt’s songs.