Steve Earle & the Dukes: J.T.

Three months after Justin Townes Earle’s tragic death in August 2020, his father announced plans to record an album of his son’s songs. J.T. was a fixture on the Nashville ragtime, folk, bluegrass, and rock scenes, a gifted songwriter who released nine albums between 2002 and 2019. He inherited his father’s gift for songwriting, penning reveries along with tender ballads that addressed his search for forgiveness and his struggles with depression and addiction (“Turn Out the Lights”). Drawing heavily from Justin’s early to mid-career material, J.T. opens with an upbeat bluegrass take of 2008’s “I Don’t Care” and moves as far ahead chronologically as the jarring title track from Justin’s 2019 swan song The Saint of Lost Causes. Much of J.T sounds upbeat while masking deeply troubled lyrics: “They Killed John Henry” bemoans the tragic fate of an American folk hero who died despite his best intentions, and the darkly wry “Harlem River Blues” speaks of committing suicide when things are looking brightest. The closer, “Last Words,” is the cover album’s sole original—it’s a painful, personal lament in which Steve Earle bares his soul about his son’s death. Otherwise, J.T.’s music speaks for itself.

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