Steve Earle is apparently not the type to rest easy on his laurels. The veteran singer-songwriter, who has been making music for more than three decades (almost four decades to be precise), has released 18 albums since his debut album Guitar Town in 1986. Now less than a year after the release of his 18th album – Ghosts of West Virginia (2020) – Earle returned with his now 19th album Jan. 4 in the form of the simply titled J.T. The 11-song album, which is a tribute to his late son Justin Townes Earle, was features 10 covers of his son’s work and one new song. It was originally scheduled for release Nov. 19, 2020, but was pushed back to this month. The younger Earle died Aug. 20 in his Nashville, TN home from an accidental drug overdose. The record is a wonderful tribute to his late son thanks in part to its featured collection of songs. The one new song added to the record adds its own touch to the whole. It will be discussed a little later. The record’s overall sequencing rounds out its most important elements and will also be addressed later. Each item noted here is important in its own way to the whole of the compilation. All things considered, fans of father and son alike will appreciate this tribute to the younger Earle.
Steve Earle’s musical tribute to his late son Justin Townes Earle is a presentation that fans of the elder and younger Earle alike will appreciate. That is proven in part through the record’s featured songs. Save for just one song, the album’s featured songs are covers of works crafted by Earle’s son. Audiences will find the songs important in that they represent a wide swath of the younger Earle’s catalog. The compilation reaches all the way back to Earle’s debut 2007 EP Yuma with a cover of ‘I Don’t Care’ and all the way up to 2019’s The Saint of Lost Causes with that album’s title track. The Good Life (2008) gets the most nods, with four songs from that album featured here. The compilation is not necessarily a full career-defining presentation, though. Audiences will note that Steve Earle ignored two of the three albums in his son’s “family trilogy” here, Single Mothers (2014) and Absent Fathers (2015). Whether that was intentional – and if so why – is anyone’s guess. Regardless, audiences still get a relatively rich picture of the younger Earle’s catalog, which means this compilation serves as a strong introduction to his body of work for those who are less familiar with his work. For those who are more familiar with Justin’s work, those audiences will agree that its wide range of songs serves as a fitting posthumous birthday gift to Steve’s son. Keeping all of this in mind, the songs featured in this record build a strong foundation for the compilation. They are just one part of what makes the record appealing. The one new song that Steve Earle added to the record adds its own touch to the whole of the presentation.
‘Last Words,’ which closes out J.T. is the one new original composition added to the record. It is fitting that the song is the record’s closer. That is because it is in a sense, a kind of musical eulogy to Steve’s late son. He points out in the heart wrenchingly beautiful composition’s chorus that “The last thing you said to me/Was I love you, too.” He additionally looks back, telling his son he wished he could have been there in his son’s final moments. The gritty sound in Earle’s vocal delivery still illustrates so well, the emotional pain that Earle still felt as he wrote the song’s lyrics. The simple instrumentation and the delivery thereof makes the song, which barely tops the four minute mark, feel so much longer, but in a good way in this case. Anyone who is left dry-eyed after hearing this song is either not human or just cold to others’ emotions. It is a powerful, fitting finale for this musical tribute to Steve’s son and just one more way in which the compilation shows its strength. Staying on that note, it plays into one more important notable aspect, the record’s sequencing.
The sequencing of Steve Earle & The Dukes’ new album brings everything in the album full circle, completing the presentation’s picture. The record starts off on an upbeat note in ‘I Don’t Care’ but gradually pulls back in its energy, reaching its first trough in ‘Far Away in Another Town.’ From there, the album moves back in an upswing in ‘They Killed John Henry’ before pulling back again for another pair of songs. ‘Champagne Corolla’ lifts listeners right back up again, making sure the more reserved energy doesn’t last but so long. The last trio of songs finds the album’s energy falling, rising, and falling one last time, keeping things interesting. Looking at the bigger picture here, the overall sequencing of Steve Earle’s new musical tribute to his son ensures that its energy rises and falls at all of the right moments, in turn keeping listeners engaged and entertained through this aspect just as much as the record’s songs. All things considered, the record, while being in large part a compilation, is still a compilation that is actually worth hearing.
Steve Earle & The Dukes’ new compilation record J.T. is a presentation that audiences new and established alike will enjoy. That is thanks in part to the compilation’s featured songs, which paint a rich picture of the catalog of Steve’s late son Justin. Only two of Justin’s eight albums are omitted in this presentation. Even his debut 2007 EP is represented here among it all. It is a fitting tribute in its own right to all that Justin did prior to his untimely passing last year. The one new song crafted by Steve is its own powerful musical eulogy to his late son and will move any listener. The sequencing of all of the noted content puts the finishing touch to the record, ensuring listeners’ engagement and entertainment even more. It brings everything full circle, making sure the energy in the featured songs keep listeners entertained and engaged. Each item noted here is important in its own way to the whole of the record. All things considered, they make J.T. a moving tribute to Steve Earle’s son that fans of father and son alike will appreciate. J.T. is available now.
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