Steve Earle and the Dukes performed a lively cover of his son Justin Townes Earle’s “Harlem River Blues” on Thursday night’s episode of Jimmy Kimmel Live. The recorded version appears on the newly released album J.T., a tribute to the late singer-songwriter, who died in August.
Strumming an octave mandolin, Earle leads his full band through a rollicking, pedal-steel drenched interpretation of the tune, which had traces of gospel harmony in its original incarnation. It’s all in stark contrast to the younger Earle’s lyrics, which describe a man who’s going to end his troubles for good by drowning himself in the river uptown. “Tell my mama I love her, tell my father I tried/Give my money to my baby to spend,” Earle sings.
“See you when I get there, cowboy,” Earle says as the group’s last notes ring out.
Justin Townes Earle recorded “Harlem River Blues” as the title track to his 2011 album and it would become a central component of his artistic output. He made a memorable national television debut performing the song on the Late Show With David Letterman, and also won Song of the Year with it at the 2011 Americana Honors & Awards.
Steve Earle’s J.T. includes 10 covers that span his son’s work, from “I Don’t Care” off 2007’s Yuma EP to the title track from 2019’s The Saint of Lost Causes. It concludes with a lone original, “Last Words.”