When acclaimed singer/songwriter Justin Townes Earle died unexpectedly in August of 2020, his father, Steve Earle, conceived this album to raise money for Justin’s three-year-old daughter. Until the final track, the mood is not elegiac as Earle and the Dukes plow through 11 Justin originals, each projecting a blend of intense, life-affirming spontaneity.
Some arrangements have an acoustic focus, others emphasize amplified guitars. Mandolin and Ricky Ray Jackson’s pedal steel drive the easygoing “Ain’t Glad I’m Leaving.” The Dukes unleash full-bodied fury behind Earle on “Maria,” dialing back for the hymn-like “Far Away in Another Town.” The less-is-more accompaniment involves guitarist Chris Masterson, Eleanor Whitmore’s fiddle (or mandolin), and Jackson’s pedal steel or dobro generating complex textures around Earle, who adds guitar, mandolin, or harmonica.
Sparkling acoustic guitar enhances “They Killed John Henry,” a J.T. variant on the old folk tune. Delicate acoustic flatpicking dominates the eerie “Turn Out My Lights” before the band kicks in to finish. Solid, relentless rockabilly rhythms impel both “Champagne Corolla” and “Harlem River Blues,” punctuated by Masterson’s slashing amplified leads and Jackson’s steel. The full weight of grief manifests on the moving final track, “Last Words.”
This article originally appeared in VG April 2021 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.