Steve Earle – Townes, a tribute to Townes Van Zandt [Album Review]

by oz on April 21, 2009


Steve Earle once visited Townes Van Zandt at his cabin in Franklin, Tennessee. After doing some hunting in the woods, Earle arrived back to the house to find Townes sitting with a loaded .357 magnum revolver. Townes put a round in it, spun the cylinder, put the barrel to his own head and pulled the trigger. Three times.

Townes escaped death (it wasn’t his first time), but it took Steve Earle years to get over the incident. His comment in the Townes Van Zandt documentary, Be Here To Love Me, was: “I was pissed. How in the fuck could you put me through that if you give a fuck about me?” I’m sure others have similar stories from encounters with the volatile Townes Van Zandt, and like Steve Earle, remained friends with with the songwriter throughout his lifetime.

Earle’s first tribute to Townes was naming his son Justin Townes Earle. Now he’s just released a tribute album called Townes, performing the songs that hold the deepest personal meaning to him. The album features guest appearances by Tom Morello, Allison Moorer and, for the first time, his son Justin on a song called “Mr. Mudd and Mr. Gold.” Earle does a good job finding some lesser known tracks, in addition to Townes’ big hit “Pancho and Lefty.”

If you’re a Townes Van Zandt fan and haven’t seen the movie Be Here To Love Me, I can’t recommend it enough. The movie starts with Townes stating in an interview, “I don’t envision a very long life for myself.‚  Like, I think my life will run out before my work does, you know? I’ve designed it that way.” I’ll let you guys learn about the shock treatments that stole away his early memories, the hard-core boozing, the heroin addiction and how he fell to the ground from a fourth story balcony…on purpose. With Townes, Steve Earle will help you remember his friend – the genius, perfectionist songwriter.

Here’s a track from the album and a video clip that is partially featured in the movie. To hear the song, jump to the 4.15 mark. Townes’ friend in the background has a visceral reaction to one of my favorite songs, “Waiting Around To Die.”

Steve Earle – To Live Is To Fly

Video: Townes Van Zandt – Waiting Around To Die

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

nittanyroar April 21, 2009 at 9:39 am

The clip you put up is by far my favorite part of that film. Seeing that man’s reaction is just stunning. That is the mark of a powerful songwriter when you can elicit that kind of reaction. When I first saw it I must have rewound that part 5 or 6 times. Just amazing.

uwmryan April 21, 2009 at 11:50 am

I’d not heard that story about revolver before. wow. nuts.

Dangerbird April 21, 2009 at 8:58 pm

The clip posted is originally from ‘Lost Highways’ – which is an awesome film that focuses on the singer/songwriters from Towne’s era. It visits one of Guy Clarks’ infamous picking parties where a young Steve Earle plays along with Rodney Crowell, Clark, and Townes. Well worth tracking down, which shouldn’t be too hard.

I’ve also got the ‘Be Here To Love Me’ film and concur with OZ’s opinions. Great viewing.

As for Earle’s new album…. fkn brilliant! (Though not as good as his son’s)

oz April 22, 2009 at 8:58 am

I’ve never seen Lost Highways either, but I hear it’s a must see for any outlaw country fans. I think it’s on netflix too.

Michele Busk January 19, 2010 at 2:44 pm

Steve. You are my hero. One of them. I was ‘Sister tiny’, a disc jockey on KFAT, KOCN, KHIP, and KPIG. I’ll never forget your visit to the station (KHIP-Hollister, Calif.) in the mid 80s. Remember? Your van broke down somewhere down on hwy 101 and Terell Lynn drove down and got you. Guitar Town was just out. You were the first one to have the balls to SING out about Bush’s atrocities. And Thank You for fuck the FCC. I’ve done nights on the radio for years. Radio dinosaur now because of formats and one person owning all the radio, you know. Now I make pots. I am your biggest fan, or one of them. Thanks for all the good tunes and keep on makin’ music. . Tiny

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