Scott Kelly - Steve Von Till - Scott “Wino” Weinrich - The Songs of Townes Van Zandt - (9/10)
Published on June 19, 2012
It’s been a while since I’ve done a review, and in working to get back in the game I was looking down the available promo list for TMO, and I saw Scott Kelly, Steve Von Till, Wino – The Song’s of Townes Van Zandt?!?! Admittedly, I got more excited than I have for any single Metal release this year, not that this has been a bad year by any means.
There is a fair chance coming into this review you have no idea who Townes Van Zandt is, and as far as I’m concerned, that is one of the greatest sins in the history of the American music industry. Of course, it’s hard to have not heard of some of Townes Van Zandt’s songs. “Pancho and Lefty” was brought to popularity first by Emmylou Harris and then to number one in 1983 by Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard. Emmylou Harris & Don Williams brought Van Zandt’s “If I Needed You,” covered here by Steve Von Till, to number one in 1981. Musicians from Robert Plant to John Prine to Neil Young to members of the Kings of Leon have cited Townes Van Zandt as a major influence.
From the names I’ve mentioned I’m going to make a guess that you have figured out that this review has very little to do with Heavy Metal outside of who is involved. Considered to one of the greatest songwriter’s ever by some folks who I believe are the greatest songwriters ever, Townes Van Zandt has touched the hearts and lives of millions of people from all walks of life and clearly of all musical inclinations (“I love this guy, he makes (Dave) Mustaine look like a pussy!” – quote from an old school thrasher I recently introduced to Van Zandt). Von Till’s elite and eclectic Neurot Recordings brings us another in an, unrelated, series of split cover/tribute albums of legendary music figures who never properly received their due (the previous being 2009’s The Hawkwind Triad with VON TILL’s own Harvestman, US Christmas, & Minsk). If you’ve heard any of their solo work it shouldn’t surprise you that Steve Von Till (Neurosis/Tribes of Neurot), Scott Kelly (Neurosis/Corrections House/Tribes of Neurot) and Scott “Wino” Weinrich (Wino/Saint Vitus/The Obsessed/Spirit Caravan) decided to pay homage to the legendary Van Zandt, who died in 1997 after years of depression, alcoholism & drug abuse.
The instrumental prowess of these men is already well known, and this album is not an exception. Each cut on the album is a faithful, but original, rendition of the original, accentuated by crisp acoustic instrumentation, with a few exceptions, and each man’s distinct and powerful, gruff, baritone voice. When listening to the album its clear the focus was on musical flow as there isn’t a uniform order; Wino doesn’t appear until track 5, “Rake.”
Each Kelly, Von Till, and Wino chose three songs to put on this album. I guess it’s appropriate considering who is involved for the songs selected to be somewhat on the obscure side. I was only honestly familiar with three of them on the Van Zandt I’ve heard by far the most, the essential 1977 release “Live at the Old Quarter, Houston, Texas” (recorded in 1973). Obviously, the most well known song is the aforementioned “If I Needed You.”
The real high points here are all the Wino tracks, as his voice just strikes me as the most appropriate (the layered harmonies on “A Song For” are simply haunting); Kelly’s extended version of “Tecumseh Valley” is pure aural depression; and Von Till’s rendition of “The Snake Song” conjures thoughts of Nick Cave at his darkest. There isn’t a bad song on the album, period. If you like good, dark Folk/Country in the “guy and guitar”, styling this album is for you. Also if you haven’t dug into the acoustic or solo works of the artists involved this is a good place to start because it highlights both the inspiration of the legendary men involved and the power of a well-crafted song.