“It’s the only way I knew to say goodbye,” says Steve Earle of this album honouring his late son, Justin Townes Earle, a talented singer-songwriter from the same mould as his famous father: the same mix of Americana influences, the same wearied twang to his vocals, the same inspired way with a lyric. Sadly, too, the same dysfunctional family history, which meant that in boyhood Justin saw little of his father, with his teens quickly curdling into rebellion and substance abuse. In and out of addiction, in August this year “JT” fell foul of a cocaine/fentanyl overdose, aged 38.
Earle reprises 10 of his son’s songs here, including early material such as Pine Hill, usually described as formative, but which emerges as bright as more praised later work. Justin used a sparer musical palette than Earle Sr, often with a rockabilly feel – the celebrated Harlem River Blues, for example – but the Dukes, a tough, road-worn outfit, tend to iron out their variety. Earle’s vocals, growling and gravelled these days, deliver the songs straight, only occasionally letting a sense of loss intrude. His own song Last Words is hushed and harrowing, taking comfort that the final words between father and son were “I love you”.