Steve Earle pays tribute to Townes Van Zandt

I just got the new Steve Earle album, Townes, which is a tribute to Earle’s friend and mentor, Townes Van Zandt. Admittedly, this disk is a little outside my usual tastes, but then again, I’ve long been a fan of “outlaw” country.

What fascinates me as much as his music is Earle’s story. His return from addiction is nothing short of inspirational. Once you've picked it up, it’s hard to put down the crack pipe and return to real life. Mix heroin into that party, as Earle did, and you’ve got a real recipe for disaster.

The latest issue of Rolling Stone has a feature article on Earle, wherein he talks about meeting Van Zandt and the influence Van Zandt had on his life and his music. In recording this disk, Earle told Rolling Stone he “wanted to capture the Van Zandt he recalled from his memory, when his friend was at his peak.”

The songs Earle selected, he says, are the ones that he feels personally connected to and mean the most to him. The music ranges from “(Quicksilver Daydreams of) Maria,” which was on Townes’ 1968 debut LP, For the Sake of the Song to “Marie,” from his 1994 album No Deeper Blue.

Earle laid down the basic tracks in his New York apartment before taking the recordings to Nashville to finish the album. His wife and his son both contribute individual guest vocals on the album. Also of note is the appearance of former Rage and current Street Sweeper guitarist Tom Morello on “Lungs,” which is often considered one of Van Zandt’s masterpieces.

I’m woefully unschooled in Van Zandt’s music. Before picking up this disk, the only thing I can say for sure I’ve heard is the Merle Haggard / Willie Nelson cover of “Pancho & Lefty” (which Earle covers here). Townes, to the best of my limited knowledge about the man and his music, pays formidable tribute in a way no one but Steve Earle could have done.


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