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20 best albums of 2009: 17. Steve Earle - "Townes" (released May 12, 2009)

Steve Earle "Townes"
Steve Earle "Townes"
c/o New West Records, Inc.

Tribute albums can often be stuffy affairs. They usually consist of half-hearted vanilla covers of classic tracks. They usually beg the question, ‘why listen to a tribute when I can just hear the real thing?’
Steve Earle’s “Townes” is not a usual tribute album.

For those who don’t know Townes Van Zandt, you should – especially alt-country fans. His work speaks for itself far better than I ever could. He won’t impress everyone, but the converted fall hard.

Earle certainly ranks in the converted. He knew Van Zandt personally and even named his son after the cowboy troubador. Earle certainly crafts a personal take on this collection of tunes.

Most songs feature stripped-down arrangements and place the melody front and center. The beautifully light-handed take on songs like “Loretta” and “No Place to Fall” show how much Earle respects and loves this music.

Tribute albums almost never live up to the original, but Earle’s “Townes” delivers not only a fitting and emotional tribue, but also stands on it’s own as a beautiful artistic statement.