REVIEW: Steve Earle - J.T

TOUCHING: Steve Earle's tribute to his late son Justin Townes Earle is beautifully poignant.

TOUCHING: Steve Earle's tribute to his late son Justin Townes Earle is beautifully poignant.

IT'S impossible to listen to Steve Earle's J.T without being overwhelmed with sadness. Fathers aren't meant to bury sons. They're also not supposed to record tribute albums in their memory either.

The shoe should have been on the other foot - Justin Townes Earle in the distant future recording a collection of his legendary father's material, honouring his legacy to outlaw country.

But on August 20 last year Townes Earle lost his life-long battle with addiction when he died from an accidental fentanyl-laced cocaine overdose, aged 38.

For a shattered 65-year-old Earle, the only way he knew to "say goodbye" was to record 10 covers of his son's songs, plus an original, Last Words, which is heartbreakingly raw.

Here Earle sings in his exhausted croak about holding JTE when he was born and wishing, "I could have held you when/ You left this world like I did then."

Then in the chorus Earle provides an insight into the final phone call between the two, who famously endured a tempestuous relationship due to their separate substance issues.

"Last thing I said was, 'I love you'/ And your last words to me were, I love you too'."

Earle's version of JTE's most famous song Harlem River Blues jettisons the upbeat and almost triumphant nihilism of the original for a sombre tone, and The Saint Of Lost Causes becomes far more sinister in the hands of Earle senior and his weathered band The Dukes.

Turn Out My Lights takes on a greater melancholy following JTE's death as Earle sings his son's lyrics of depression and addiction.

But elsewhere Earle injects fresh enthusiasm into some of his son's lesser known tracks. I Don't Care off the 2008 EP Yuma is reimagined as an energetic slice of rockabilly and They Killed John Henry maintains the fun and spirit of the original.

What becomes clear listening to J.T and hearing Townes Earle's words sung by his father is just how much he idolised his old man.

These are beautiful songs, lovingly performed and arranged by a father who's lost a son and a songwriting equal.

4 stars

This story Steve Earle delivers heartbroken tribute to late son first appeared on Newcastle Herald.