Steve Earle – Together at the Bluebird Cafe (Steve Earle, Townes Van Zandt, and Guy Clark)

Well, isn’t this nice. Just three legends – Early Steve, amazing depressed folkie Van Zandt, and country singer Clark, pictured on the back looking like Bob Seger, an aged heartthrob, and a country singer, respectively, taking turns playing solo acoustic songs from throughout their catalogue and telling little stories.

Townes Van Zandt is amusing and terrifyingly sad. Almost dead and sounding it (he died a few months later), he guts through a few songs, usually the weakest ones here (odd since he has many amazing songs) and keeping up humour by talking about how writing a lullaby for his wife didn’t work because she divorced him, and more importantly a gut-wrenching lengthy story about how he lost his gold tooth gambling and his friend pulled the wrong one. He starts talking about someone richer than he and someone in the audience yells “who isn’t?!” Poor little Townes, too beautiful for this world. He really does look like a model on the back cover, which makes it even sadder. He sings a lullaby for his daughter (eh), something called “Ain’t Leavin’ Your Love” (eh), the sad but aimless “Tecumseh Valley” and “A Song For,” and the classic “Pancho and Lefty”.

Guy Clark is the one I’m unfamiliar with, but his songs come off very well. One is a throwaway opener, but otherwise there’s a charming song (“The Cape”) a song written “for my father on the occasion of his death” a traveler in the wrong land song and a tale of entering Ellis Island. I don’t know him and he doesn’t talk nearly as much as Steve and Townes.

Steve sounds a bit starstruck, and probably was seeing as he named his son “Townes”, and it’s probably a function of knowing his songs in album form that I find the straight acoustic forms disappointing. “My Old Friend the Blues” and “Tom Ames’ Prayer” and “Mercenary Song” are good but more or less unchanged, while the lack of a band hurts “Valentine’s Day” and “I Ain’t Ever Satisfied” and especially “Copperhead Road”, which only gets two verses before being put out of its misery. He tells stories too, but it sounds like he’s trying to impress Townes. Interesting to hear, though.

The performance is all very “intimate,” it’s a good glimpse of Townes near his death, and the sound quality is great. Oddly it’s worse the more you know the artists. In any case, Guy Clark has some great songs, Townes is charming, and Steve sounds pretty good when he’s out of his element.

8/10

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