Review: “Townes,” Steve Earle

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Ever since he broke onto the scene in mid-1980s with Guitar Town and his brand rockin’ country, Steve Earle has always been misunderstood by Nashville, but not by me. To me, he’s always been great.  On his latest CD, Townes, he honors the man he calls the “best songwriter to ever walk the earth,” Townes Van Zandt, with a performance that is as good as it gets.

Townes Van Zandt had a cult following, but never actually had a hit on his own. It wasn’t until Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard recorded “Pancho and Lefty” that mainstream America “discovered” who he was. Earle first met Van Zandt when he was playing a show in Houston in 1972 at age 17 and Van Zandt proceeded to heckle him the entire set. He told him he wasn’t much of a country singer if he couldn’t do “Wabash Cannonball.”  It turned out he couldn’t do it, but instead played a Van Zandt tune called “Mr. Mudd and Mr. Gold” (included on this disc and featuring Earle’s son, Justin Townes Earle). This amused Van Zandt and the two remained good friends until Van Zandt’s death in 1997.

Earle opens the disc with slow, haunting rendition of “Pancho and Lefty” that leaves the Nelson/Haggard version in the dust. My favorite track, “Colorado Girl,” is a sad and beautiful rendition that features just Earle and his guitar. The foot stomping “Loretta,” featuring his wife Allison Moorer, is fun, and the Dust Brothers and Tom Morello from Rage Against the Machine bring a little scratching to the back roads of Texas on “Lungs.” “Where I Lead Me” is funky and nasty all at the same time, which always good in any situation.

Steve Earle said in his Townes press release that “this may be one of the best records I’ve ever made.” I’ll have to agree Mr. Earle. In fact, ol’ Townes would have no reason to heckle you if he were still alive to hear it.

Steve Earle Official Website

“Colorado Girl” by Steve Earle

“Pancho and Lefty” by Steve Earle

 “Pancho and Lefty” by Townes Van Zandt

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