Scott Kelly, Steve Von Till, Wino - Songs of Townes Van Zandt
One of the greats is honoured by some of the greats
I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that the names of Kelly, Von Till, and Wino are familiar to you (and if they aren’t then they really should be) but I suspect that the name of Townes Van Zandt may be a different story and, had I not seen Scott Kelly and John Baizley do an excellent rendition of one of his songs (St John the Gambler) earlier this year on their acoustic tour, I would have been blissfully unaware myself.
Townes Van Zandt is an American song-writer who, in the tradition of most tragic artists, was never really afforded the kind of wide recognition that he deserved but was admired and respected by a veritable litany of artists whom he had an impact upon (Bob Dylan, Robert Plant, Steve Earl, Willie Nelson; the list goes on and on). His country/folk/Americana styled tales of broken hearts and the sad and downtrodden are as touching as they are captivating and utterly relatable and hearing that Kelly, Von Till, and Wino would be tackling some of his tracks made this collaboration one of my most highly anticipated releases of the year. They have not disappointed in the slightest.
Each artist is afforded three tracks on the album and each brings with them their own take on the source material with Kelly and Von Till tending towards the darker elements of Van Zandt’s sound in a folk-oriented way (which isn’t too dissimilar to their own solo acoustic works if truth be told) while Wino seems to channel more of Van Zandt’s country sound with his rich vocal twang. These three approaches to the material provide a solid if rather brief cross-section of Van Zandt’s considerable body of work and, while the album isn’t even remotely comparable to metal, the emotional depth and the weighty subject matter in general are enough to bring it as close to doom as is technically possible while still maintaining the authenticity and spirit of the songs themselves.
It’s this authenticity and the sheer honesty of the simple truths of which Van Zandt sung that makes him such an important musician to me (and many others) and the rather stripped back arrangements of each of these nine tracks places more emphasises on the vocal lines than the music itself which, to my mind, was definitely the right approach to take. Van Zandt was a highly detailed and vivid lyricist and poet and his words reach out with a power of staggering proportions. These songs in their original forms were and are massively emotive in their own ways and Kelly, Von Till, and Wino have made every effort to remain as spiritually faithful to them as possible while still adding their own stamp where appropriate (the crawling pace of Kelly’s rendition of St John The Gambler, Von Till’s deep and gravelly vocal lines, and Wino’s simple approach mixed with his distinctive voice).
It’s hard to know exactly what kind of appeal this album will have for the average punter because, as I’ve said, metal this isn’t but those who are already familiar with the solo efforts of Kelly and Von Till will have a pretty good idea of what to expect here as, stylistically, Songs of Townes Van Zandt is roughly in the same vein. What I will say, however, is that this is an album that to my relatively inexperienced ears captures what it is that I’ve come to love about the music of Townes Van Zandt and that it is practically a must buy for anybody with a taste for the darker side of folk or country music.
As a recent convert to the music of Van Zandt the one thing that I hope for more than anything else is that his music will find new life and a wider audience through this collaboration and, in death, he may find the kind of appreciation that he struggled to find in life.
Added: June 26th 2012
Reviewer: Michael O'Brien
Related Link: Label Website
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