Steve Earle’s Last Words on J.T.

J.T. by Steve Earle
Country rock legend Steve Earle officially releases the record
J.T. on March 19. Having been pre-released on digital platforms on January 4th, many fans may have already heard Steve Earle and The Dukes take on Justin Townes Earle tunes. But it’s important for fans to purchase the vinyl copy, as all proceeds from this release will be put into a trust for Justin’s 3 year old daughter and because JTE is regarded as one of today’s best songwriters.

Among Steve Earle’s vast songwriting catalog are the ‘covers’ albums, Townes and Guy. These outlaw countrified records pay tribute to two of the greatest Texas songwriters in history, but for Earle an ode to his mentors and friends. With J.T., named from Justin Townes Earle’s childhood nickname, Steve finds himself paying respect to the legacy of his son, who unfortunately passed away last year.

From playing in Steve’s band as a kid, to becoming a breakout solo artist turning heads with his honest, pain riddled lyrics, Justin mixed the hip parts of rockabilly and country music into something that felt new and present. Justin was recognized as ‘Emerging Artist of the Year’ in 2009 and for ‘Song of the Year’ in 2011 for “Harlem River Blues” at the Americana Music Awards. Releasing a total of eight albums over his career, Justin’s music found its place among today’s fractured music industry.

The record kicks off with a mandolin lick on “I Don’t Care,” from Justin’s 2007’s debut EP Yuma, a self reflective rootsy flavor with rapid fire lyric delivery, “I don’t know, where I’m going no more, I don’t know and I don’t care.” “Ain’t Glad I’m Leaving,” from Justin’s 2008 full length Bloodshot release, The Good Life, brings Justin’s playful country bounce and tongue in cheek lyrics to life with a new perspective. Skipping ahead in Justin’s career to “Maria” off of 2012’s Nothing’s Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now, a personal plea of country rock heartbreak, “We’re better off if we all remain strangers, stumblin’ thru the dark.”

Seemingly pulled straight from Steve’s personal songbook is “They Killed John Henry,” the folky Appalachian-esq tune off of 2009’s Midnight at the Movies, staying true to Justin’s signature bluesy-clawhammer fingerpicking style that he became known for.

The haunting “Turn Out My Lights,” another from The Good Life, taps into the magic of JTE, simple lyrics painfully and beautifully told, “Same old blues comin’ round again. Every night about this time. Callin’ me like a long lost friend. When I turn out my lights.” Seemingly taking on a deeper meaning under the circumstances.

“Harlem River Blues,” a snapshot from the peak of Justin’s creative popularity unleashes Steve’s full country rock glory with driving resonator guitar and fiddle, trailing off into the acapella send off “Lord, I’m goin’ uptown to the Harlem River to drown. Dirty water gonna cover me over and I’m not gonna make a sound.”

Steve ends J.T. with the poignant and heartbreaking “Last Words.” Penned by the senior Earle, about the conversation he had with his son the night of his passing, “Last thing I said was, ‘I love you’ and your last words to me were, ‘I love you too.’”

J.T. has that signature Dukes sound, with rough growling vocals over tele driven, pedal steel and fiddle rock that fans have come to expect. Mixed with Justin’s emotional lyrics and throwback melodies, you really get the sense of the power and depth of JTE’s catalog. For many fans this bittersweet record marks the passing of a young songwriter in his prime, but for many, J.T. serves as a reminder that his music will continue to inspire.

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Mark Lennon

Mark Lennon

Mark, TJ's Managing Editor, helped build TJ Music from the ground up. From growing up in North Carolina to hiking the streets in Los Angeles, Mark now calls beautiful Buffalo, NY home. A true fan of classic country sounds, bluegrass and rock and roll.
Mark Lennon

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