Justin Townes Earle

Justin Townes Earle gets a fresh start

Justin Townes Earle gets a fresh start

On “White Gardenias,” Justin Townes Earle's favorite song from his September 2014 album “Single Mothers,” the narrator is searching for a woman he last saw the previous week. As a slide guitar moans in the background, the Nashville-based folk singer-songwriter wonders, “Maybe she went back to Baltimore.”

She was a real person, Earle explained last week, but the two never met. It was Billie Holiday, a singer he always considered “extremely intriguing.”

“Louis Armstrong showed us how to get behind the beat, and she showed us how far we could take it,” Earle said on the phone from a tour stop in South Carolina. “She rose from the Baltimore waterfront back in her day, which was...