Even if you didn't know Townes Van Zandt was such a friend and mentor to Steve Earle that Earle named his son Justin Townes Earle, you could instinctively sense it in Earle's music. As much a poet as anyone who ever wrote a song, Van Zandt had a knack for zeroing in on essences of human nature—bittersweet, haunting, sad, sometimes funny, or expressing joy at such simple pleasures as the sweetness of springtime. As much as he's an iconoclast, Earle also appreciates all those folk, bluegrass, and country roots, and is enough of a poet and pursuer of truth himself to know a master when he hears one. Thus, Townes, Earle's remarkable tribute to Van Zandt, is even more than that. He doesn't really claim Van Zandt's songs as his own as much as inhabits them; Pancho, Lefty, Townes, and Steve seem to be riding the trail together. Townes comes with two discs, one featuring Earle's vocals and solo guitar, as he will appear here. The other has additional instrumentation, making the tracks bloom with bluegrass ("White Freightliner Blues"), Delta blues ("Brand New Companion"), or grungy rock ("Lungs"), thanks to the varying presences of the likes of Tim O'Brien and Tom Morello. Outside Townes returning over the River Styx, you couldn't ask for a better interpreter than Earle. With Joe Purdy.
Thu., July 23, 7 p.m., 2009