Steve Earle has announced plans to record an album of songs written by his son Justin Townes Earle, who died August 20th at the age of 38.
Backed by his longtime band the Dukes, Steve is expected to begin recording the album in October with a target release date of January 2021 — Justin Townes Earle would have turned 39 on January 4th. Earle will donate 100 percent of advances and royalties from the project to a trust for Justin’s daughter, Etta St. James Earle.
The younger Earle spent some time as a touring member of the Dukes on keyboards but staked out his own territory as a gifted singer-songwriter and performer beginning with 2007’s Yuma. He broke through to a wider audience with 2010’s Harlem River Blues, earning nominations and awards from the Americana Music Association. His most recent album, The Saint of Lost Causes, was released in May 2019 via New West Records, which is also Steve’s label home of the last few years.
Justin and his father sometimes shared the stage, but kept their recording careers separate. Still, Steve expressed pride and appreciation for his son’s work, even when some of the songs — like “Mama’s Eyes” — were partially about him.
“The first time he heard ‘Mama’s Eyes,’ he was standing like the proud father on the edge of the Ryman Auditorium stage years ago, and I played it solo,” Justin told Rolling Stone last year. “I remember walking offstage and he goes, ‘Mama’s Eyes,’ that’s a good song.’”
Over the last decade, Steve has also paid tribute to some of his songwriting mentors with full albums of covers, including 2009’s Townes, which featured songs by Townes Van Zandt, and the more recent Guy Clark homage Guy. But this upcoming album — of a father singing his son’s songs in the wake of a tragedy — feels like something else entirely.