Steve Earle is indeed a productive musical artist: just some eight months after his amazing concept album Ghosts of West Virginia, the US artist and his band, The Dukes, release another album – one of the first ones of the year – on 4th January 2021. The album title is J.T., in memory of Steve Earle’s son Justin Townes Earle, a very promising singer-songwriter, who died in Nashville in August 2020. The release date would have been his birthday.
Steve Earle – About The Artist
For biographical facts, I simply refer to my sum-up about Steve Earle at my Ghosts of West Virginia review. The biggest impact between that album release in May 2020 and the release of J.T. undoubtedly was the pass-away of Justin Townes Earle, who is the son of Steve Earle and his third wife, Carol-Ann Hunter. The assumed cause of death is drug abuse. The song below is a track by J.T. Earle, Mama’s Eyes.
Steve Earle & The Dukes – J.T. – Track by Track
The eleven track album lasts 35 minutes. All songs but the last one are original recordings by Justin Townes Earle.
1. I Don’t Care
The memorial album starts with a speedy, traditional bluegrass-style tune. Much more than an intro, but a bit of a thematic guidance for the whole album. The song was originally published on the 2008 EP Yuma.
2. Ain’t Glad I’m Leaving
Ain’t Glad I’m Leaving again deals with departure and breaking up. The song reminds me of a Western movie – a very different style than the first track. Another 2008 release by Steve Earle’s son.
Used to be I was the object of affection
In your eyes alone
But now it seems your heart has found a new direction
You’re leavin’ me out in the cold
Compared to the first two songs, the 2012 original Maria is much more melodic. The melody line feels quite happy and positive, supported by quite rocking electric guitars. Steve Earle slightly adopted the lyrics to fit into his perspective.
4. Far Away in Another Town
Far Away In Another Town is the closing track of Justin Townes Earle’s 2008 album, The Good Life.
Well I’m leavin’
Tonight babe on a midnight train
I got to get out while I still can
Cause that woman don’t do nothing ah but bring me down
So I think I can be lonesome far away in another town
I’m standing outside in the poorin’ rain
Every half an hour them trains comin’ rollin’ back again
So the next time you come lookin’ no I won’t be around
Cause I think I can be lonesome far away in another town
Somewhere where the wind blows just as cold
Well, I think I can be lonesome on my own
A deep ballad alike classic country track (the video below is the original). The Steve Earle version is harder, more intense, also a bit of deeper. But after four tracks already, I am already impressed by the musical work of J.T. Earle – and the wonderful way his father is honoring it.
5. They Killed John Henry
The John Henry legend is a classic reference in American music, especially in the traditional genres like country. Not too surprising, there is also a J.T. Earle version, which has been released on the 2009 Midnight At the Movies. Good one, though I liked the first tracks more.
6. Turn Out My Lights
There are quite a lot of The Good Life references on the J.T. album. Turn Out My Lights is a quite dark version of the seventh song of that 2008 album. Again, the raspy voice of Steve Earle gives
7. Love Pine Hill
But then they knocked down the timber
And burned off the brush
To get to the riches below
And when they pulled out
They left a cold black ground
And one pine standing lone
So take me home…
Lone pine hill
Nine million streams on Spotify only – Love Pine Hill is the first cover of a really big song of Justin Townes Earle on this album. Again, I am asking how much I should feel ashamed that I like this 2020 “daddy version” more than the original. Especially Steve Earle’s voice is just catching me so well. Lovely song!
8. Champagne Corolla
This song, taken from the 2017 album Kids In The Street, is not only the latest original release so far, but also one of the two singles Steve Earle already published before the album. In Champagne Corolla, I feel he sounds a bit like a mixture of Bob Dylan and Chris Rea. I love it – the song has a lovely vibe anyway.
9. The Saint Of Lost Causes
I’m a bad dream
I’m not a nightmare, I’m too pretty for that
Let’s just say I’m the last thing you wanna see coming
I’m the reason they say watch your back
For so long, I was like a wounded hound
Backed into a chainlink fence
The world at large was just a big, mean kid
Poking me through the fence with a stick
Ain’t nobody goin’ back
It takes a whole lotta hurt
Therein lies one of life’s biggest lessons
Ain’t got nothin’ to do with deserve
Just pray to the Saint of Lost Causes
The Saint Of Lost Causes has been the title track of Justin Townes Earle’s very last album (2019). Again, the video below is an original (in a lovely acoustic guitar version). Steve Earle and the Dukes turn this track to a very dark one. One of my favorites of the album.
10. Harlem River Blues
Undoubtedly, Harlem River Blues is the central track of this album. It is the most catching tune – and it is Justin Townes Earle’s biggest success, if you solely look at the streams (some 11.5 million on Spotify only).
11. Last Words
The album is already such beauty, but it closes with an intimate highlight – the only new track on this highlight. Steve Earle sings about his son’s birth, but also his last phone call with his son (ending with I Love You, too) and other memories of their common time. The second emotional highlight of the album, indeed. The closing lyrics are simply catching:
You made me laugh,
you made me cry,
Showed me truth
Told me lies.
Tore my heart apart, man.
Brought me back the peace again.
Now I don’t know what I’ll do
Until the day I follow you
Through the darkness to the light
Cause I loved you for all you life
Last thing I said is “I love you”
Your last words to me were “I love you, too”
I love you, too.
Amazing – and sad.
Steve Earle & The Dukes – J.T. – Spotify
Here is the Spotify widget to J.T.:
Steve Earle & The Dukes – J.T. – My View
The album will be released on the fourth day of 2021, my best album posting for 2020 has not yet been published – and J.T. is already a hot candidate to make it into the rankings in about one year. This musical memorial for Justin Townes Earle, closed by the emotional Last Words is just such a breathtaking collection of songs – it shows J.T. Earles (and his fathers talent) and creates wonderful emotions and memories. These eleven tracks are more beautiful than the most wonderful gravestone could ever be. Thank you, Steve Earle, to sent the music of your son out to the world of listeners again. We definitely feel with you – thank you for sharing these sad emotions with us. This album is the first Top Pick! for 2021, for sure.
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