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Steve Earle Tribute to Late Son Justin Townes Earle

Steve Earle to record an album of his late son's songs

Steve Earle has announced that his tribute to late son Justin Townes Earle will be an album of songs written by Justin, who died on August 20 at the age of 38.

Steve will be joined by his long-time band the Dukes in the project which will see all the artist advances and royalties going to a trust for Justin’s daughter Etta St. James Earle, who was born in 2017.

Steve Earle and the Dukes will start recording in October and it is planned to release the album in January to coincide with what would have been Justin’s 39th birthday, according to a press release from New West Records, which had both father and son under separate recording contracts.

Steve is an Americana legend and Justin got his start in his dad’s business playing keyboard as a touring member of the Dukes. He soon branched out on his own successful career as a singer-songwriter – both as a recording artist, with eight albums, and a popular live performer. He was honoured by the Americana Music Association as Best New/Emerging Artist in 2009 and two years later won again at the AMA awards with Best Song for “Harlem River Blues.”

His last album, The Saint of Lost Causes, was released in May 2019 to critical acclaim. He toured extensively to promote the album right up to his sudden death.

Father and son seldom toured together in recent years but would sometimes appear with each other on stage when the moment was right at a live event - often singing a song from the vast collection of Steve’s old friend Townes Van Zandt, after whom Justin was named.

This will not be the first time that Steve has delivered an album of covers dedicated to a dead musician. His much-admired 2009 release Townes was a collection of Van Zandt songs and then 10 years later he released Guy, an equally-impressive album of Guy Clark songs. Van Zandt died on New Year’s Day 1997 and Clark passed in 2016. Both were long-time songwriting mentors of Steve.

One of Justin’s finest songs, “Mama’s Eye”, deals with his complex relationship with both parents and in live performances he would precede the number with a family story of various shades. The opening lines pulled no punches:

I am my father's son

I've never known when to shut up

I ain't fooling no one

I am my father's son

We don't see eye to eye

Justin told Rolling Stone last year about how his father first heard the song: “He was standing like the proud father on the edge of the Ryman Auditorium stage years ago, and I played it solo. I remember walking offstage and he goes, ‘Mama’s Eyes’ - that’s a good song.’”

New West Records says further details of the cover album will be released in the near future.

Paul Cutler

Editor Crossroads - Americana Music Appreciation


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