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Poet: A Tribute to Townes Van Zandt

4.3 out of 5 stars 34 customer reviews

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Audio CD, September 11, 2001
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Editorial Reviews

The songs of Townes Van Zandt are destined to be for folk artists what the works of Gershwin are to saloon singers. The likes of "Pancho & Lefty," "If I Needed You," and "To Live's to Fly" are the quintessence of troubadour music, thanks to the somber grace of the late Lone Star legend's language and the engaging simplicity of his melodies. Poet gathers a talented assortment of Van Zandt contemporaries and apostles to pay tribute to the man by lovingly reinterpreting his songs. Steve Earle electrifies "Two Girls" while Billy Joe Shaver tackles "White Freightliner Blues" with similar fervor. "Tower Song," one of the most poignant breakup songs ever written, is revived by Nanci Griffith, and Willie Nelson provides a conversational version of "Marie." Stalwart fans of these gems will always prefer hearing the originals and live versions performed by their composer, but they'll find plenty to respect and enjoy in this lovingly compiled salute. --Steven Stolder

Track Listings

Disc: 1

  1. To Live's To Fly - Guy Clark
  2. Tower Song - Nanci Griffith
  3. White Freightliner Blues - Billy Joe Shaver
  4. Highway Kind - Cowboy Junkies
  5. Snake Song - Emmylou Harris
  6. If I Needed You - Ray Benson
  7. Loretta - John Prine
  8. Nothin' - Lucinda Williams
  9. Blue Wind Blew - The Flatlanders
  10. Mr. Mudd & Mr. Gold - Robert Earl Keen
  11. Two Girls - Steve Earle And The Dukes
  12. Marie - Willie Nelson
  13. Pancho & Lefty - Delbert McClinton
  14. Waitin' 'Round To Die - Pat Haney
  15. My Proud Mountains - John T. Van Zandt

Product Details

  • Audio CD (September 11, 2001)
  • Original Release Date: 2000
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Free Falls Ent.
  • ASIN: B00005NT3S
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #208,795 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
With the recent release of a two-CD retrospective of his early recordings, and now this tribute, those who may have been worried may be assured that though their creator left us nearly five years ago, Townes Van Zandt's songs will not soon be forgotten. In a review of Poet in the New York Times, Anthony De Curtis, not entirely hyperbolically, declared him a greater songwriter than Hank Williams -- though, of course, known to many fewer devotees of American music.
Poet may not be the last Van Zandt tribute we'll ever hear, but it sets the gold standard. Its producers have assembled a stellar collection of folk and country artists, all of whom turn in impassioned performances. The production is right, too -- a big consideration when one considers the clunky production that mars a number of Van Zandt's own recordings. Billy Joe Shaver offers a rocking roadhouse-blues version of "White Freightliner Blues," and it's great. But except for Steve Earle and the Dukes ("Two Girls"), everybody else prefers an austere acoustic approach whose effect is to underscore Van Zandt's roots in traditional music. No one does it so explicitly as Emmylou Harris, who sets the obscure "Snake Song" to a plaintive old-time banjo sound. If one didn't know better, one might almost think this was some venerable Appalachian lyric and melody. Willie Nelson's stark take on "Marie," one of Van Zandt's last songs, brings to mind the mood and storyline of Woody Guthrie's "I Ain't Got No Home."
Still, for all his manifest influences, Van Zandt was an original, a melancholy romantic who never lost his ability to laugh. Few have known, either, how to tell a story better than he did.
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Format: Audio CD
Though nothing here quite equals, in this writer's opinion, Townes Van Zandt's own performances of these songs (studio & otherwise) this is, overall, an enjoyable tribute. I'm not wild about everything here - 'Highway Kind' by the Cowboy Junkies for instance, while listenable enough, never rises above its own weariness and sounds too much like just another Cowboy Junkies song. Robert Earl Keen's interpretation of 'Mr. Mudd & Mr. Gold' is similarly disappointing. On the face of it such a 'narrative song' would seem to be ideal for him and yet his version of the song falls somehow flat. Also, why we need another version of 'Pancho & Lefty' (Delbert McClinton) at this point in the recorded history of the song is somewhat baffling. Still there's nothing on 'Poet' which isn't at the very least good - including electric performances by Steve Earle ('Two Girls') and Billy Joe Shaver ('White Freightliner Blues'.) The Flatlanders do a warm, appealing version of 'Blue Wind Blew' but a few interpretations - by Guy Clarke ('To Live's To Fly'), Nancy Griffith ('Tower Song'), Emmylou Harris ('Snake Song'), Lucinda Williams ('Nothin') and Willie Nelson ('Marie') - really outshine the rest. The reason for this is simple - it is in these (mostly quite stark) interpretations that one has the sense that the respective performers can be said to inhabit (or, to put it differently) are truly inhabited by the songs. Which means that on these songs there is a kind of magic that comes through - through the sensitivity of the individual performers the songs cast a spell and it's the spell of Townes Van Zandt's songwriting. Another highlight is John T. Van Zandt's rendition of 'My Proud Mountains' - his voice and delivery uncannily recalling his father's.
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Format: Audio CD
Townes Van Zandt was an extraordinary songwriter who wrote lyrics that could justly be called poetical. And while he played and acoustic guitar and his disks get filed under "folk," Townes was no folkie in the pejorative sense. He was from Texas and he had an edge. Once in a Houston bar at 3am he launched into this epic version of "Nothin'" which must have clocked in at nearly 10 minutes (he had a band behind him), undoubtedly the most frightening musical look into the abyss that I have ever experienced. A couple of drunken cowboys at the bar got into a fistfight at roughly the six-minute mark. Townes, wisely, kept right on playing. I don't think Townes ever made it to Lake Woebegone. Would have been lost if he had.
I sympathize with the reviewers who write that TVZ's originals top most of these covers (though in fairness, Townes' studio recordings were often marred by cheesy production). As an introduction, "Live at the Old Quarter" is superior. This disk is a complement to, not a substitute for, Townes' own recordings. But this collection works, if only for that while Townes was a "poet" and the cover illustration has him looking suitably folkie/poetical, enough of his contemporaries who have retained their edges (if not their chops) are on hand to keep TVZ from being embalmed in treacle.
Personal favorites: Willie Nelson absolutely nails "Marie," and the Lucinda Williams/"Nothin'" pairing is inspired. (In general the artist/song pairings work well: Nanci Griffith gets "The Tower Song" and John Prine on "Loretta," for example.) Billie Joe Shaver reminds us that while TVZ carried an acoustic, he could wail.
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