Townes Van Zandt and Steve Earle / Townes Van Zandt / Guy Clark

Townes Van Zandt

Texas Rain: The Texas Hill Country Recordings


Steve Earle / Townes Van Zandt / Guy Clark

Together at the Bluebird Café

American Originals

Mark me solidly in the category of listeners who feel that there can never be too much Townes Van Zandt music in the world. Van Zandt, the Texas prairie poet who gave the world moments such as “Pancho & Lefty,” “If I Needed You,” and “Waiting Around to Die,” made endless recordings, re-recordings, and live versions of his songs, and each one is just a little different, depending on the stage in life he was at, or maybe just his mood for the day. All are works of genius. Not easy to listen to, however. “Marie,” performed on Texas Rain with Willie Nelson, may well be the most agonizing song ever penned, the story of a pair of souls kicked one time too many by life. His songs range from wrenching (“Tecumseh Valley”) to the surreal (“Two Girls”), but they all are full of passion, desire, and hope, and it’s for those reasons they continue to appeal, time and time again.

On Texas Rain: The Texas Hill Country Recordings, Van Zandt gathered a group of his musical running buddies together and they created new versions of some of his best work. Opening with a duet on “If I Needed You” with Emmylou Harris to a honkin’ “Two Girls” with the sadly departed Doug Sahm, this is not just another disc of the same old songs, but rather a testimony to the love that the artists involved all feel for the music of a man they all thought of as a mentor. Townes sounds lively and energized by the proceedings, and his guests (which include Freddy Fender, Calvin Russell, and Kathy Mattea, among others) sound pretty juiced up as well. Well worth searching out.

Together at the Bluebird Café captures what sounds like a night to remember at Nashville’s famed songwriter hangout. Gathered to benefit the Interfaith Dental Clinic, three premier songwriters swap songs, stories and generally hoop it up. Guy Clark starts the evening off with the wry “Baby Took a Limo to Memphis,” followed by Steve Earle with “My Old Friend the Blues” from his Guitar Town album. The star of the evening is Townes, with “A Song For,” “Ain’t Leavin’ Your Love,” and a few others. He was a born storyteller, both in his songs and his banter — his introduction to “Katie Belle” is a hoot — and he comes off better than Earle or Clark. Clark sounds a bit stiff, and Earle generally sounds better on electric material, but that’s a matter of taste.

Townes is gone now. He died on New Years Day in 1997, which is the same day his hero, Hank Williams kicked the bucket, for most likely the same reasons. Both men lived hard, crashed harder, and left a legacy of greatness that only grows as the years pass. If you haven’t listened to Townes Van Zandt, then you haven’t really earned the full use of your ears — or your heart.

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