Justin Townes Earle, "Kids in the Street" (New West)
Justin Townes Earle seems to have put away some of the demons that animated his earlier work. He's sober, newly married and about to become a father, and the songs he writes don't sound as tortured.
But if it feels like he has sorted things out, Earle demonstrates on "Kids in the Street" that he still has plenty to say. He's playful, adventurous and settling into his talent, with an album that rivals his best work.
And that's saying something. Earle long ago established himself as a first-rate singer-songwriter, living up to his legacy as the son of the one of world's great songwriters, Steve Earle, and the namesake of another, Townes Van Zandt.
Now there's a comfortable confidence — and less torture. He explains his newfound maturity on "What's Goin' Wrong" when he sings: "Now I'm not certain, but maybe I am learning. Maybe I'll be the last in a long long line of hurting."
And yet he's still the next in a great line of songwriters, with a knack for putting an original imprint on what could have been a cliche. Earle does that wonderfully on the title cut, and again on "Faded Valentine," a Patsy Cline-style journey through "a box of nothing much worth keeping."
"Ask yourself has it been so long," he sings wistfully, "that I've forgotten where I went wrong."
He hasn't forgotten, which lets his music retain its edge. But he has things in perspective.