Sunday, August 9, 2009

Review: Steve Earle - Townes

Ah, lord, Im gonna ramble 'till I get back to where I came... (Townes Van Zandt, Steve Earle - White Freightliner Blues)

Steve Earle's lastest CD Townes was released in May of this year, but I have waited until now to write a review. Well, for one reason it has taken a while to fully digest, but the other is that I am going to see Steve in concert in a few weeks and I have been re-listening to the CD.

Steve has been one of my favorite singer/songwriters since I first heard Guitar Town back in 1986. It has been a satisfying ride along the way no matter the genre, from country to folk to rock to americana to bluegrass. Steve's strength has always been his songwriting. On Townes, he pays homage to his mentor and friend, the late Townes Van Zandt by covering 15 of his songs.

Van Zandt was always a big influence on Steve. I've read and heard the recount of how Steve was heckled by Townes when he was a young Texas country singer; "play the Wabash Cannonball" as Steve broke into his own rendition of Towne's Mr. Mud and Mr. Gold to quiet him down. After Townes' death in 1997, Steve wrote and recorded the very moving Ft. Worth Blues in his honor. Steve's oldest son, Justin Townes Earle, is even named for him. So this album of covers was not unexpected.

  • The CD starts out with Poncho and Lefty. This is Townes' most famous song because Willy Nelson & Merle Haggard's hit record. The song has been covered by others including Emmylou Harrison, Hoyt Axton and Delbert McClinton among others. Steve does a straight ahead reading of the song with just an acoustic guitar and his voice.
  • Next up is the bluegrass sounding White Freightliner Blues. A solid song about rambling along the these roads from town to city; along the tradition of Woody Guthrie.
  • Contiuing along the lonesome highway, Colorado Girl is tender song again with just Steve and his guitar. The singer yearns to see his lady in Dever.
  • The bluesy Where I Lead Me seems to be about the struggles with ones own inner voice. The voice inside is struggling with staying or leaving.
  • Lungs is the most rocking song from the CD with a sound similar to that from Steve's last CD Washington Square. This is Townes' poetry about fighting with his inner demons (which seems to be a theme in his work) "Salvation sat and crossed herself called the devil partner; Wisdom burned upon a shelf who'll kill the raging cancer".
  • In No Place To Fall, a slow tempo song, the singer is trying to convice his lover to let him stay, "I ain’t much of a lover it’s true, I’m here then I’m gone and I’m forever blue, but I’m sure wanting you".
  • Loretta is sort of an irish jig, about Loretta the barroom queen; "Her age is always 22, Her laughing eyes a hazel hue, Spends my money like water falls, Loves me like I want her to".
  • Brand New Companion is a straight blues song about a new love interest -"She fits just like my guitar, Shes near as tall as me, She lives way out the d train, But shes texas as can be".
  • The very poweful Rake again shows the poetry of Townes Van Zandt. The central theme of relationships again is on display here.
  • Delta Mamma Blues is another bluegrass sounding song.
  • The folk song Marie is a tear jerker; another powerful song from the Woody Guthrie book of songwriting. The story of a homeless man earnestly trying to take care of his family.
  • The bluegrass song Don't Take It Too Bad is a ditty with the message that sometimes things don't work out.
  • Mr. Mudd and Mr. Gold is sung with Steve's son, Justin Townes Earle, named after his mentor. The song is an epic tale apparently about a card game. The length lyrics are hard to follow, but the conclusion is "Now here's what this story's told: You feel like Mudd, you'll end up Gold; Feel like lost, you'll end up found, so Amigo, lay them raises down".
  • (Quicksilver Daydreams of) Maria is a folkish ballad describing his love for Maria.
  • To Live is To Fly is another powerful ballad sung with his wife Allison Moorer. The lyrics are about really living -"To live is to fly, low and high, So shake the dust off of your wings and the sleep out of your eyes.".

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