Steve Earle has gifted us a series of tribute albums, hailing Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clarke and, tragically, his late son Justin Townes Earle. His idea of a homage is true to the original artist but also ragged in that singular, Steve manner.
Jerry Jeff Walker (1942-2020) was a New York troubadour who worked the Greenwich Village scene before installing himself in Austin, Texas. He recorded his best-travelled song, Mr. Bojangles, in 1968; Nina Simone, Sammy Davis Jr and others have accented the emotions of the song.
Steve Earle’s message is that the Jerry Jeff songbook amounts to more than this. So he delves into lesser-known parts, like Wheel, a 1973 song about tragic, rural cycles, and he sings Old Road, as a sparse holler, akin to the original.
Other songs celebrate the ‘gonzo country’ aims of Jerry Jeff, but Mr Bojangles and his worn-out shoes is still best in show.