Poet: A Tribute to Townes Van Zandt
First Appeared at The Music Box, January 2002, Volume 9, #1
Written by John Metzger
In a career that spanned 29 years, Townes Van Zandt never came close to charting one of his songs. In fact, only a few of his compositions ever became known outside of his own cult following, and this was largely due to the success of others in interpreting his music. Nevertheless, Van Zandt achieved tremendous attention from his peers and disciples who found solace in his simple, but pained expressions of life and love on the lonely road of a troubadour.
Poet collects fifteen of Van Zandt's tunes — from the familiar to the obscure — that suitably showcase his range as a writer. Each is reinterpreted through the eyes of many who have often sought to emulate him. Save for Billy Joe Shaver (whose take on White Freightliner Blues is a freewheeling roadhouse romp) and Steve Earle (who shades Two Girls with a shimmering, electric echo), the artists contributing tracks to Poet draw from the same subdued melancholia that Van Zandt often attributed to his works. Nanci Griffith's take on Tower Song treads lightly with delicate sorrow; Lucinda Williams rings all the harrowing horror out of Nothin'; and Willie Nelson deals a dust-bowl dirge on Marie. But Poet's best track, surprisingly, is the Cowboy Junkies' rendering of Highway Kind. In this group's hands, the song becomes a ghostly blend of howling harmonica, wispy organ, perilous percussion, funereal guitars, and wraith-like vocals that hover like an intoxicating fog, masking an unseen, but impending doom. It's here in Highway Kind's dark crevices that Van Zandt's spirit no doubt still lingers. ½
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2001 The Music Box