Throughout his career, Steve Earle has sung the praises of Texas troubadour Townes Van Zandt, “naming him the patron saint of barrooms and benders,” said Stephen Deusner in Pitchfork media.com. He once threatened to stand on Bob Dylan’s coffee table to proclaim Townes the world’s greatest songwriter. He even named his firstborn Justin Townes. So Townes—a loving collection of handpicked covers—was an inevitable tribute to his late mentor, but “it didn’t have to be so dull.” Earle has stripped down the arrangements to put Van Zandt’s songs front and center, said Randy Lewis in the Los Angeles Times. While Earle’s gruff, hard-bitten delivery is perfect for “his own tales of moral outrage and social empathy,” it too often leaves Van Zandt’s work sounding “unintentionally dour.” For instance, “Pancho and Lefty,” the fateful tale made famous by Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard, sounds even sadder here. Earle gives the songs the “carefully considered settings they deserve,” said Greg Kot in Entertainment Weekly. Even if they don’t always succeed, it’s fascinating to hear Van Zandt’s “foremost disciple” pay his respects.
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