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Monday, July 20, 2009

Steve Earle

Townes (New West)

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It was never a matter of if, only of when, Steve Earle would get around to honoring mentor Townes Van Zandt with a tribute album. Earle's latest release embraces that role with both simplicity and finesse. As one of Van Zandt's best-known acolytes, Earle adds his characteristic rasp to simple arrangements that highlight the songs' impressionistic, often angst-ridden lyrics. Add a bluegrass backup band here, duets with wife and country singer Allison Moorer and son Justin Townes Earle there, and the result is 15 selections that clearly illustrate Van Zandt's enormous talent.

"Pancho and Lefty," "To Live Is to Fly" and "(Quicksilver Daydreams of) Maria," which Earle learned directly from Van Zandt, are some of the CD's most evocative numbers. So is "Lungs," an apocalyptic interpretation produced by the Dust Brothers' John King and driven by the searing electric guitar of Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello. The song's dark imagery, further fueled by Earle's distorted vocals, lets us know there is still much to learn from the late, great Texas singer-songwriter.

Steve Earle performs July 29 at the Pabst Theater.


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