A Far Cry From Dead
Steve Earle - Townes
Note: While I'm busy doing something close to nothing, but different from the day before, Tyge from The Neon Lounge chimes in with another guest post.
Townes Van Zandt was a songwriter's songwriter. His songs have been covered by Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris, Norah Jones and The Cowboy Junkies, among others. In 1996, Nashville's own Jonell Mosser released Around Townes, a thirteen song cd of Van Zandt covers. Poet: A Tribute to Townes Van Zandt was released in 2001 and features various musicians including Steve Earle, Nanci Griffith, John Prine, Lucinda Williams and Robert Earl Keen.
Townes Van Zandt and Steve Earle were long-time friends. Both hailed from Texas and both came to Nashville for the music. They lived hard and played guitar even harder. Steve would later say of Townes, "He was a good teacher but a bad influence." One only needs to see Be Here To Love Me, a documentary about Van Zandt, to understand Steve's sentiments.
So it was with great anticipation that I picked up Earle's new cd of Van Zandt songs, simple titled Townes. I heard the pre-released version of "Lungs" and was impressed with Earle's harsh (ala "Copperhead Road") take on it. Unfortunately, it's one of only a few songs on the album that grabs you. At first it seems there's no continuity between the songs. It's also obvious that many of them would have faired better on any number of Earle's past albums. His bluegrassy version of "White Freightliner Blues" would have been at home on his cd The Mountain while the serene melodies of "Colorado Girl" and "No Place To Fall" would have been great additions to Transcendental Blues. "Brand New Companion" would have fit well on I Feel Alright or at the very least, as a b-side to "CCKMP." There's also some songs that should have never been touched by Steve ("Rake" and "Marie"), as no amount of effort will do justice to Van Zandt's originals. Earle does do an impressive duet with his son, Justin Townes Earle, on the fast-paced "Mr. Mudd And Mr. Gold." If you've never heard the song, it's complex lyrics make R.E.M's "It's The End of The World As We Know It" look like remedial English.
The silver lining is that for a limited time (and for a few dollars more) you can buy Townes with a bonus eleven song disc that features most of the songs stripped-down to the basics. If you don't like Earle's distorted/amplified voice on "Lungs" or the throbbing drums on "Loretta," this disc is for you. In fact, the bonus disc is definitely the better of the two. By eliminating Earle's "bling" and bringing the songs down to their original beauty, you'll realize the now uncluttered album is right up there with Earle's critically acclaimed cd, Train A Comin'. Also, when listening to the bonus cd you'll realize that Townes Van Zandt was indeed one of the best American songwriters to have lived. I think that's what Steve wanted us to know all along.
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