Release Date: Jan 4, 2021
Record label: New West
Country veteran Steve Earle describes this collection of songs by his late son Justin Townes Earle as "the only way I knew to say goodbye". Naturally, there's an emotional heft which comes from both context and vivid lyricism - it's impossible to hear Earle Sr. deliver lines like 'troubled days are behind me now' without your heart skipping several beats.
Tumultuous as their relationship was, Steve Earle clearly reveres his son Justin Townes Earle as a songwriter. Years after Steve (himself a recovering addict) fired Justin from the Dukes due to Justin's struggles with addiction, and months after Justin's death of a drug overdose, comes J.T., a new tribute album released on what would have been Justin's 39th birthday. Over the first 10 tracks, the country legend passionately interprets Justin's deep cuts and fan faves alike. Steve's takes on "Harlem River Blues" and "They Killed John Henry," from Justin's circa-2010 critical heyday, are as raucously upbeat and unabashedly old school as the originals.
Just three months after Justin Townes Earle's death, his father, Steve Earle, announced he was releasing a covers album of his son's songs. The timeline seemed sudden: From the outside, inhabiting Justin's songs of loneliness and loss appeared to be an act of emotional masochism. But everyone grieves in their own way, and for Steve those sessions were simply part of his own process, a means of communion and moving through pain.
Steve Earle has never been reluctant to credit those whose footsteps he has followed in. Notably, he has already recorded tribute albums of material by Townes Van Zandt ( Townes ) and Guy Clark ( Guy ). Not only that, he wrote and recorded one of the finest eulogy songs you can find, "Ft. Worth Blues," in honor of Van Zandt.