Release Date: May 12, 2009
Record label: New West
Genre(s): Rock, Country, Folk
In the last two decades, Steve Earle has emerged as a controversial musical hybrid of the protest singer Woody Guthrie and an overhauled version of Jennings-Kristofferson outlaw country. Nashville wouldn’t have him, so he set out on his own (after falling into heroin, then prison), dubbing himself a “hardcore troubadour”, and founding his own indie label E-Squared, as well as recording more recently on indie label New West. A cult music figure like Earle always has inspirations, and for most of his life the self-destructively gifted poet-singer-songwriter Townes Van Zandt was the inspiration.
Certainly, he's closer than most to the material as he was to the man, but more than that he's a great songwriter and an avid folk music enthusiast. He understands lineages and the way the tales get told matter in order for them to live on. That's the easy part; the more mercurial thing is how well he succeeded. Earle made Townes' songs seem like an extension of his own last album, 2007's Washington Square Serenade.
Steve Earle first met Townes Van Zandt in Houston in the early 1970s, when the former was just a teenager and the latter had a couple of well-made, if not especially strong-selling, albums full of dusty melodies, desperate blues riffs, and heartbreaking metaphors. Teacher and student moved (separately) to Nashville, where they attended guitar pulls with the likes of Guy Clark and Steve Young. With his bone-deep intuition of country's potential for clearly and unpretentiously expressing emotional pain, Van Zandt, who died in 1997, taught Earle well, and you can hear the elder's influences in later compositions songs "Goodbye", "Mercenary Song", and "Everyone's in Love with You".
The late Texas troubadour Townes Van Zandt wrote dozens of brilliant songs, their acute imagery delivered in an arid twang. Earle, his foremost disciple, gives 15 favorites the kind of carefully considered settings they deserve, from the chamber-folk of ”Rake” to the eerie electro-rock of ”Lungs.” The songs of Townes are the real stars, evidence that Van Zandt deserves to be known for a lot more than writing leadoff track ”Pancho and Lefty” — which, by the way, is pretty great, too. A Download This: Listen to the song Lungs on the artist?s MySpace page .
Four months after Townes Van Zandt's death on New Year's Day 1997, Steve Earle retreated to Galway, Ireland, site of one of Van Zandt's final shows. Just more than two years clean and out of prison and helplessly watching his teenaged son, Justin Townes Earle, tread down the same disastrous path, Earle sat by the moonlit bay waves and penned "Ft. Worth Blues" for his late, reluctant mentor and friend: "They'd shut down all the honky tonks tonight/And say a prayer or two/If they only knew." As contentious as their relationship was, no artist understands Van Zandt's songs as instinctively and viscerally as Earle, the interwoven poetry and pain, love and loneliness.