In August 2020, acclaimed Americana singer-songwriter Justin Townes Earle died at the age of 38. The son of iconic songwriter artist Steve Earle, Justin was known both for carrying the hardscrabble alt-country torch passed by his father and for charting his own musical path, one guided by deftly narrative songwriting and genre agnosticism—and marked by struggles with substance abuse and addiction. In the wake of his son's passing, the elder Earle gathered his longtime band The Dukes to record 10 of his favorite JTE songs and one original, the closing track "Last Words."
Earle's raw emotions are right at the surface of his vocal performances on J.T., with songs like Justin's 2008 The Good Life cut "Turn Out My Lights" taking on striking new resonance. On "They Killed John Henry," off Justin's 2009 LP Midnight at the Movies, one can hear the similarities between the father and son's singing voices, which weren't always readily apparent in their respective work. Fan favorites like "Champagne Corolla" and "Harlem River Blues" get faithful, if stripped-down, treatment from The Dukes, who shape the songs to the elder Earle's vision without changing what made them so special in their original forms. Closer "Last Words" is a fitting capstone for the record, with Earle painfully contrasting the moment of Justin's birth with the last phone conversation the two had on the night Justin died. J.T. is a fitting tribute to a true talent lost far too soon, but more than that it's an intimate portrait of love and grief, one final transmission between a father and his son.