In Memoriam pays tribute to those who have left this world, and the songs they left us to remember them by.
Last summer I was crushed by mail at my job as a mail carrier, at a time when everyone was ordering Amazon as they stayed at home. I was further flattened by a boulder with the news that Justin Townes Earle had passed away at the age of 38. The headline went by in a blink, like all the news last year, and although I had hoped to write about his career, full of a multitude of covers from several genres, a 100-year pandemic event of mail turned into a 100-year event of election mail, and then a 100-year event of Christmas packages. My timely tribute was not meant to be.
Earle, like all prodigies with musical DNA, was often compared to his father. Some wanted to compare the similarities of their Americana music, while others wanted to highlight the differences, such as JTE’s penchant for wearing traditional bluegrass suits on stage. I sometimes wonder if he defied comparisons on purpose, dressing in a summer suit while dropping f-bombs in a plethora of raunchy realness. But anyone that heard them would never confuse the two.
Earle was the latest victim in a slew of high-profile opioid deaths. Prince. Tom Petty. Jay Bennett of Wilco. After JTE died, Steve Earle came out with a tribute album of his son’s songs, heartbreaking evidence that the father defied the devil’s bookies and outlived the son.
The people who give us joy are suddenly ripped away. But in JTE’s case, some of that joy was recorded on camera. Here, on the ninth anniversary of the release of his album Nothing’s Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Now, let’s take a look at some of his best covers.
Justin Townes Earle—Graceland (Paul Simon cover)
JTE’s studio version of “Graceland” is, in my opinion, one of the best covers ever, but I’ll post this session, which is a little more raw.
Justin Townes Earle—My Starter Won’t Start (Lightnin´ Hopkins cover)
“I only have 12 frets on this guitar but I need 14. So we’re going to see if we can get away with it.”
Spoiler alert: he does.
Justin Townes Earle—Louisiana 1927 (Randy Newman cover)
Earle was known for his a cappella versions of Newman’s song, but I think the guitar helps keep him focused on the waters rising.
Justin Townes Earle + Joe Pug—Atlantic City (Bruce Springsteen cover)
Although the sound quality from this audience recording isn’t great, Pug’s harmonica is, and really shows how central it is to Springsteen’s desperate plan.
Justin Townes Earle—Can’t Hardly Wait (Replacements cover)
The first song that I ever heard from Justin Townes Earle was a cover: The Replacements’ “Can’t Hardly Wait,” where the Memphis Horns were replaced by some string pickin’. This is it, from the wonderful Daytrotter Sessions, and it’s as polished as a live recording can get.