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Ick’s Pick (Week XIX): Steve Earle – ‘Townes’

I’m sitting down to write this after the improbable occurrence of just seeing Steve Earle in the 30 Rock season finale. Oh my, what an ending! It’s a kidney benefit for Jack’s dad, and a We Are the World-esque gathering of talent comes together – Steve Earle, Elvis Costello, the Beastie Boys, Rhett Miller, Sheryl Crow, Moby, Michael McDonald, Wyclef Jean, Clay Aiken, Mary J. Blige, Adam Levine, and on and on… hilarious! And to see ol’ bearded Steve standing there between Wyclef and McDonald. Priceless…

So on to Steve’s new record, which dropped this week. There’s really no shock factor involved in listening to ‘Townes’, Steve Earle’s new album of Townes Van Zandt covers. I mean, it’s not like Steve is interpreting the Cole Porter songbook, or releasing an all-mandolin record of Devo songs. So much of Townes’s sound has been prevalent in Steve’s music since the beginning, and therefore the album just sounds – right. Townes was a mentor to Steve, his outlaw father figure. Nary a show goes by without Steve talking about him. So it just seemed inevitable that a record like this would come along.

Steve takes on 15 Townes songs on the album – some of them familiar to me as a casual TVD listener: “Pancho and Lefty”, “White Freightliner Blues”, “Don’t Take It Too Bad”… and then some not so familiar to me – songs like “Where I Lead Me”, “Loretta”, “Brand New Companion”…

With help from Tim O’Brien, Tom Morello (electric on “Lungs”), Steve lovely wife Allison Moorer, among others, Steve injects new life into these songs. Steve brings along the drum machine on a few tracks – something he picked up on his last album, Washington Square Serenade. But it works (on songs like “Lungs” and “Loretta”). We get some bluegrass on “White Freightliner” that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on The Mountain (his bluegrass album with the Del McCoury Band). There’s the slow and churning blues of “Brand New Companion”, and the beautiful poem that is “(Quicksilver Daydreams of) Maria”.

With Townes, Steve Earle pays great tribute to an old friend and mentor. It’s been over a dozen years since Townes Van Zandt passed on at the young age of 52. With this album, Steve keeps his buddy’s memory alive and makes people like me want to seek out more his mentor’s work. I have a couple of Townes albums, but I don’t have 1971’s Delta Momma Blues. Based on “Where I Lead Me”, it’s next on my list…

Where I Lead Me (mp3)

Buy Townes.

After Townes Van Zandt’s death on January 1st, 1997, Steve wrote this song for Townes in Galway, Ireland. It’s been my favorite Steve Earle song since the first time I heard El Corazon that year. Some of the most beautiful words put to song…

“There’s a full moon over Galway Bay tonight / Silver light over green and blue / And every place I travel through, I find / Some kinda sign that you’ve been through”

Ft. Worth Blues (mp3) – from El Corazón

Published inIck's Pick

One Comment

  1. Bob Bob

    Great post. I look forward to getting a copy of what sounds like another great Steve Earle. There are several live Townes cds out there that are quite good.

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