Steve Earle lost his son and fellow musician Justin Townes Earle last year. As if that’s not tough enough, Steve just released a tribute album of him performing his son’s music. The whole record is as emotional in concept as it is in performance.
J.T.’s songwriting always had a way of hitting a nerve with me, and now, hearing these songs with his father’s raspy voice and road-worn band, it’s one part soul punching and another part life-affirming.
One of my favorite J.T. songs had always been “Harlem River Blues.” It’s the embodiment of that Springsteen quote, “The chorus is gospel, the verses are the blues.” Just take a look at this middle verse into the chorus to see what I mean.
Good times come and they go
Even a good man’ll break
He’ll let his troubles, bury him whole
Even though he knows what’s at stake
So I’m taking no chances
Carrying over, while I’m still good in His grace
Sayin’ I’m no fool, mama, I know the difference
Between tempting and choosing my fate
So lord I’m goin’ uptown to the Harlem River to drown
Dirty water gonna cover me over
And I’m not gonna make a sound
I highly recommend the whole album. Justin Townes Earle’s passing is a real loss. He would have turned 39 this month. We should have gotten a lot more music out of him. Here’s his father playing “Harlem River Blues.”