Destination Jam: Our Top 5 Justin Townes Earle songs that pay tribute to the late Americana singer-songwriter
Justin Townes Earle was the son of alternative country artiste Steve Earle, and released nine albums during his storied career. He passed away on August 23 at the age of 38
Justin Townes Earle, a star performer in the Americana music circuit, sadly died on Sunday, August 23 at the age of 38, with the cause of death still undisclosed. His death was confirmed by a representative for his label New West Records, while a post on Earle's Instagram page read, "It is with tremendous sadness that we inform you of the passing of our son, husband, father and friend. Justin. So many of you have relied on his music and lyrics over the years and we hope that his music will continue to guide you on your journeys. You will be missed dearly Justin 💔." The country music singer Margo Price stated, "He was always kind to me and he’s gone too soon,” while his friend and collaborator Jason Isbell also tweeted, “Had a lot of good times and made a lot of good music with JTE. So sad for his family tonight.”
Earle was the son of the alternative country artiste Steve Earle and was named after his father's friend and idol Townes Van Zandt. Known for his tall, bespectacled appearance and old-timey, rootsy music that mixed everything from folk, rock, and blues to country and bluegrass, Earle was best known for his landmark album, 'Harlem River Blues' in 2010, which earned him an Americana Music Award the following year. Prior to that, he had also won Emerging Artist of the Year in 2009 at the Americana Music Honors & Awards and was also later nominated for Artist of the Year in 2012. He released nine albums in total during his storied career, so let's pay our respects to this masterful storyteller with five of his best-known songs.
Destination Jam - Justin Townes Earle
'Lone Pine Hill'
One of Earle's earliest hits, this haunting ballad was included on his debut studio album 'The Good Life' when it released in 2008. At just over three minutes long, 'Lone Pine Hill' was a short track, but it still delivered in terms of powerful impact. It talks about a Confederate soldier during the Civil War who has become disillusioned during the dying stages of the war and longs to return home to his lover from Lone Pine Hill. The vivid lyrics describe the man's weary spirit, as he holds on to the hope that he will see his sweetheart again, while also dismissing slavery and the horrors of war. "I ain't never known a man that's ever owned another / Ain't never owned nothin' of my own / And after 4 long years I just can't tell you / What the hell I've been fighting for."
This song was included on Earle's second studio album 'Midnight At The Movies', which dropped in 2009. It serves as a tribute to his mother, Carol Ann Hunter Earle, and also talks about his father as well. Earle was left to grow up with his mother in South Nashville, Tennessee after his father entrusted her with raising his son from the age of two. Earle later reunited with his father in his early teens after Steve Earle became clean in 1994, but he soon encountered the same addiction issues as his father famously did. In the song, Justin admits "I am my father's son" and "I went down the same road as my old man." But despite the fact that he was becoming more like his dad than he bargained for, Justin also acknowledges that he is also his mother's son. "I still see wrong from right / Cause I've got my mama's eyes."
'Slippin' and Slidin'
This morose track is one of Justin Townes Earle's well-loved numbers and was included on his best-selling third studio album, 'Harlem River Blues' from 2010. A poignant guitar strummed ballad that is filled with Memphis-style horn instrumentation and soothing organs, we see Justin Townes Earle take stock of his chequered life story, as he battles numerous setbacks, but keeps slipping and sliding and feeling low. "Now I'm waking up feeling bad, babe / I'm losing patience with my only friend / Why do I try my luck? / I should never touch the stuff / But it shouldn't make any difference / As long as I keep up appearances." The lyrics also pay tribute to the original 'Slippin and Sliding' song, made famous by Little Richard and later John Lennon, where the lines "Slippin' and a slidin', peepin' and a hidin'" have been subtly updated to "I'm a-slipping and sliding, peeking and hiding" in Earle's version.
'Harlem River Blues'
This rootsy Americana number is unquestionably Earle's biggest hit, appearing as the title track from his third studio album, 'Harlem River Blues' which released in 2010. Showcasing both Justin Townes Earle's guitar picking chops as well his storytelling prowess, the twangy song tackles dark and heavy subject matter which is illuminating, in retrospect. It talks about a protagonist who is resigned to drowning himself since he knows the good times won't last forever. "I'm no fool, mama, I know the difference / Between tempting and choosing my fate / Lord, I'm going uptown / To the Harlem River to drown / Dirty water gonna cover me over / And I'm not gonna make a sound." The song was hailed by the Independent as "A voice crying from some distant reverb of misfortune, and chilled with the lethal kind of conviction that moves mountains." The track later picked up Song of the Year at the Americana Music Honors & Awards in 2011, while the album 'Harlem River Blues' itself has been hailed as one of Earle's best works.
'The Saint of Lost Causes'
This was the title track of Earle's final studio album, 'The Saint of Lost Causes', which released last year in 2019. It was seen as a stark critique of the American Dream while also weighing in with environmentalist and spiritual themes in the course of its social commentary. This track, in particular, is haunting and sinister, as Earle serves up a cold and unflinching vision of this troubled world, complete with sheep, shepherds, and tormenting wolves waiting to pounce on their hapless victims. "There's nothing can be done / It's just the way it goes / First you get bad, then you get mean / Then there's nothing left but to grow cold / And pray to the Saint of Lost Causes." The detached anguish in the song is also clear in lines like "Some will say I've got no feeling / No heart, and surely no shame / Truth is that this has been with me so long / That I, I must admit I kinda like the pain."
Destination Jam is a daily list of songs that will keep you entertained and grooving up top in lieu of feeling drained and losing the plot. Look out for a fresh selection of great tunes from MEAWW to refresh your mood every day!