I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s the fact that he’s recorded an entire tribute album to him, maybe it’s the fact that he named his first born son “Townes,” maybe it’s that interview where he said “Townes Van Zandt is the best songwriter ever, and I’ll stand on Bob Dylan’s coffee table in my cowboy boots and say it”, but I get the feeling that Steve Earle is a fan of Townes Van Zandt. Maybe not, I don’t know, it’s just a hunch I’ve had for a while.
Tribute albums are a funny thing. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. AAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH HAHHAHAHAHAAHA because it’d hard not to think you’re getting a poor facsimile of a greatest hits collection. It probably helps not to know most of the original songs, like I don’t, so I’m able to evaluate them based only on my frayed mental state and not expectations of what the songs “should” sound like. Certainly the two songs I knew well beforehand (“Pancho and Lefty” and “Don’t You Take It Too Bad”) come across as distinctly unlikeable given the greatness of the originals – just lazy really – but the rest of the songs are distinctly likeable!
It does help to know that TVZ was a povertylicious, depressed, alcoholic singing-songwriting maven, with lots of pathos and diehard fans to his name. Adds a nice patina of misery to all the songs here. It becomes such that every song is the blues, even when it’s not all that bloozy. TVZ was the real deal: a Southern couchsurfing gambler with a huge hole in his heart and a fondness for fortified wine, someone to whom the concept of “selling out” was laughable – he wanted money but nobody was willing to give it to him. But yeah, the songs. It’s like a good Steve Earle album, with few weaknesses aside from the lazers I mentioned above! There are a few generic blues numbers, a lot of acoustic pickers, The main thing to notice here is the quality of the acoustic guitar riffs throughout. They aren’t overly catchy, but they are enjoyable. The other is the simple, lovely lyrics, too self-involved and simply sad to have come from Early Steve (at least a whole album worth). The best example of this is the simperingly-titled “To Live is to Fly” but Christ on a stick, the cocksucking lyrics! “Living’s mostly wasting time / And I waste my share of mine / It never feels too good / So let’s not take too long” BWAH. “Days up and then they come / Like rain on a conga drum / Forget most remember some” CRY CRY CRY. And this is a fucking love song! “I miss the system here / The bottom’s low and the treble’s clear / But it don’t pay to think too much / On the things you left behind” SIGH SIGH CRY Sigh. “We all got holes to fill / Them holes are all that’s real / Some fall in like a stone / Sometimes you dig your own” AWW COME ON CRY.
At least that’s how I feel. Most of the songs aren’t that good, of course.