Album of the Week: Steve Earle & The Dukes, J.T.

There are people who take grief and pain and, through the creative process, transform it into something beautiful. Imagine what the world would look like if everyone embraced such a process.

Singer songwriter Justin Townes Earl released nine records, 1 EP and 8 LPs, during his short lifetime — he died last year at the age of 38. Like his father, Steve Earle, Justin Townes Earle struggled with addiction for most of his life, never able to shake the burden, which eventually caused his death.

J.T., released on New West Records on January 4, 2021 on what would have been Justin’s 39th birthday, is comprised of Steve Earle & The Dukes covering the songs of Justin Townes plus “Last Words” which was written by father Earle for his son: “I made this record, like every other record I’ve ever made … for me. It was the only way I knew to say goodbye.”

I’ve been a Steve Earle fan for decades and find his music contains an element of dark intensity, a rage, bubbling just under the surface. As a visually-oriented person, I also always appreciate and enjoy the cover art that typically accompanies a Steve Earl release, as it does on J.T., by Chicago-based artist Tony Fitzpatrick. Like the music of Steve Earl, Fitzpatrick’s art is rooted in the folk tradition with all of its eccentricities and oddness in tact.  Familiar yet other.

Listening to Steve Earle, one gets the impression that he never stops singing, never stops making music, with each song acting as an entry point into a lifetime of musical flow. The songs on J.T. remind us that life continues even when touched by tragedy.

Royalties from J.T. will go to a trust for J.T.’s daughter, Etta St. James Earle.