Justin Townes Earle, "Absent Fathers" (Vagrant)
Sorrow, betrayal, breaking up and lingering resentment are inexhaustible sources for alt-country songwriter Earle. "These old stories always end up the same/The pain is the price you pay," he sings in "Call Ya Momma," one of the many breakup songs on his sixth studio album, "Absent Fathers." It follows closely on his fifth one, "Single Mothers," which Earle released in September.
Both were recorded at the same sessions, but Earle ended up grouping the more confident-sounding songs — musically, at least — on "Single Mothers." On "Absent Fathers," he's more openly forlorn. The two releases play through like a double album. They start strong, ease back, pick up again and end with a pensive farewell.
On both discs, Earle is accompanied by a bare-bones country band. His voice has some of the grit of his father, Steve Earle, and some of the honeyed Texas melancholy of Lyle Lovett, which comes through on songs without drums such as "Least I Got the Blues," a spartan swing ballad that has the narrator sullenly surveying how damaged a woman has left him.
The music draws proudly on Southern soul, particularly in "When the One You Love Loses Faith in You." The albums aren't a narrative, but Earle plays a recurring character: a guy who's no prize himself but who's wounded anew with each separation. The album's few requited-love songs, such as "Day and Night," question themselves. Both albums, particularly "Absent Fathers," are a finely tuned wallow in male heartache.
JON PARELES, New York Times
Various Artists, "Another Day, Another Time: Celebrating the Music of 'Inside Llewyn Davis' " (Nonesuch)
As a tie-in to "Inside Llewyn Davis," the Coen brothers' film about the New York City folk scene in the early '60s, T Bone Burnett gathered an impressive cast of artists to perform folk songs, old and new, at a concert in New York. This double album documents that event, filmed for a Showtime special.
It's a multigenerational, collaborative affair, ranging from old-guard veterans Joan Baez and Bob Neuwirth to established stars Elvis Costello, Marcus Mumford and Jack White, to younger bands such as the Punch Brothers and Lake Street Dive, to the film's star, Oscar Isaac. Gillian Welch and David Rawlings anchor the proceedings. The live recording suits these acoustic, sparse songs, too, whether it's a traditional number such as "The Midnight Special" or a newer one such as the Avett Brothers' "All My Mistakes." The set is similar to what Burnett did with "O Brother, Where Art Thou?": It's a primer and a lively update.
Steve Klinge, Philadelphia Inquirer