Sunday, June 7, 2009

"I will stand on Bob Dylan's coffee table..." Steve Earle and Townes Van Zandt

Steve Earle loves the music of Townes Van Zandt and so do I (see my post from June 19, 2008). Earle once said: "Townes Van Zandt is the best songwriter in the whole world and I'll stand on Bob Dylan's coffee table in my cowboy boots and say that." I'm not sure I would go that far, but Townes did write some great songs.

Townes, who died in 1997 at age 52, did not leave behind a large body of work. Compared to someone as prolific as Dylan, his output was quite modest. He never wrote a song that you could dance to (well, maybe by yourself). His lyrics usually describe the sadder and darker side of life, yet he wrote many classic songs that pass the test of time. Pancho and Lefty, To Live Is To Fly, Flying Shoes, Snowing On Raton, Tecumseh Valley and If I Needed You are just a few of his great songs that demonstrate the songwriting genius of Townes Van Zandt. It is a shame that his work is not getting more recognition at this time. Perhaps this record will help.

Earle has just released a CD called Townes which is his tribute to Van Zandt. I have been playing it for the last week. Earle's voice and guitar do a nice job capturing the stark intensity of Van Zandt's lyrics.

I was listening to Steve's show on Outlaw Country called Hardcore Troubadour this morning. He was talking a lot about the record and his relationship with Townes. Steve is very passionate about this project and it shows in the music.

The disk begins with Pancho and Lefty which is the most recognizable song in the Van Zandt songbook and my personal favorite. Steve's growl of a voice sounds at home on this tune. It is too bad he didn't bring in Merle Haggard on the "Lefty" verses. It is a great version nevertheless.

He also covers To Live Is To Fly, No Place To Fall and Mr Mudd And Mr. Gold. The latter has Justin Townes Earle on vocals as well. All of these songs are high spots in the Van Zandt song book.

This CD is a good start for anyone who is not familiar with the great songs of Townes Van Zandt. I recommend it highly. If you really want to experience the talent of Townes Van Zandt, you need to hear the originals. There are several collections that are available on iTunes and from Amazon.


  1. Thought it was funny in Steve Earle's interview with Aquarium Drunkard, he said starting the album with Pancho & Lefty was like punching the biggest guy in prison on your first day - get it out of the way and hopefully relax.

    Sidenote: Fat Possum Records continues to reissue Townes LPs. Just picked up Live at the Old Quarter after its release last month.

  2. Nanci Griffith's version (with Arlo Guthrie) of Tecumseh Valley kills me every time I hear it.