's tribute to his songwriting hero Townes Van Zandt
, appropriately titled Townes
, seems to have been a very long time coming, even though it's only been talked about for a little while. Considering Earle's reverence for Van Zandt's extraordinary body of work, it's hardly surprising that this tribute disc is one of the best of the year.
A Fitting Tribute - No Bad Songs
Townes Van Zandt
was not only one of the greatest songwriters to have lent his work to the American song book, he was also a mentor to Steve Earle, whose songs have made their own mark. It's probably fair to guess Earle never would've touched Van Zandt's body of work if he felt he could make the tribute anything less than exquisite. So let's just get the obvious out of the way: this is an outstanding collection of songs, an excellent recording, and a fitting tribute to Earle's hero and mentor.
Van Zandt's work was dripping with sadness and regret, longing, and unrequited love. Earle's own work has run a similar gamut and, while he's become a bit mumbly of late, he articulates every reach of emotion and intention behind Van Zandt's songs. From "Brand New Companion" (purchase/download) which Earle delivers like he's just downed a bottle of whiskey and is determined to turn his life around, to "(Quicksilver Daydreams of) Maria" (purchase/download), Earle gives each song its due second life. Even the oft-covered "Pancho and Lefty" (purchase/download) has some new life in it under Earle's thumb.
Highlights and the Bottom Line
Steve Earle© Jeff Paterson
From the thrashing guitars and what sounds like canned drums on "Lungs" (purchase/download
) to the nearly old timey jam session feel of "Loretta" (purchase/download
) Earle gives each song his own stamp. "Delta Momma Blues" (purchase/download
) is one of the disc's finer, more straight-up arrangements, as is "Mr. Mudd & Mr. Gold" (purchase/download
). In all, this disc is easily one of the best of 2009, and certainly one of the finer tribute records of late.