Justin Townes Earle


Graham Edmonson '24

On Jan. 4, 1982, in Nashville Tennessee, a boy named Justin Townes Earle was born. The son of Steve Earle, a respected American songwriter, Justin Townes Earle would not only become an impeccable songwriter in his own right, but also a producer, entertainer, and music historian. 

Justin’s music career began in his teens playing with two Nashville-based groups: the Swindlers and the Distributors. As a young man he performed with his father’s band, the Dukes, until he was fired due to drug use. At 21, Justin suffered a serious overdose, landing him in the hospital. Fortunately, this pushed him towards recovery. Once he was clean, he focused intently on songwriting and released his first EP Yuma in 2007. He released his debut album The Good Life the next year. Justin described the album as “a singer-songwriter record that draws on a lot of forms of Southern music.” Over the following years, his songwriting expanded into the realms of folk, gospel, soul, blues, and more. His next two albums Midnight at the Movies (2009) and Harlem River Blues (2010) demonstrate especially diverse musical influences. Over the following nine years Justin released five more studio albums all of outstanding character. 

Justin Townes Earle was one of only a few musicians who can be said to have had a truly unique sound. The groundwork of his songs consists of a sharp and bluesy, typically acoustic guitar arrangement. Justin’s fingerstyle guitar work often makes it seem like there are at least two guitars on the recording even though it is often just one. The other most essential component of his songs, and what makes them so special, are his lyrics. Justin’s lyrics, often embellished by clever wordplay, provide dark glimpses into human reality. He sings:


“Maybe I said some things I shouldn’t

Maybe I caused a scene

Maybe I broke myself a promise

That I never meant to keep

It won’t be the last time”

(Won’t Be the Last Time) – JTE


Especially for the early portion of his career, Justin’s songs were often just him and a guitar. Over the course of time, however, Justin would incorporate drums, bass, saxophone, and a multitude of other instruments into his compositions. 

Over the course of his career, Justin Townes Earle’s music evolved from simple “singer-songwriter” tunes into heart-wrenching glimpses deep into the human condition. Much of Justin’s music, even if cheerful in rhythm or key, contains dark and deeply personal undertones. It was not until the end of his career with the album The Saint of Lost Causes that Justin began to write outward-looking rather than introspective songs. Justin attributes this change to his daughter. “My daughter is probably the reason I stopped writing songs that were so inward and started looking out into the world,” he said. “I had to start worrying about the world because of her.” In August 2020, after decades of chemical dependency, Justin Townes Earle suffered an accidental overdose and died at the age of 38.


Playlist Link: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/1QMdpL4UtrhwfcLKygr5qb?si=m5JQVzLFT8W-jK9JntWdOQ&utm_source=copy-link&scrlybrkr=b5acdc94&nd=1