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I’m going to start by telling you about the best track on Steve Earle‘s masterful, feel-good and dramatic tribute album “Townes.” The song is called “Loretta” and was a Townes Van Zandt original (they all are, this is a tribute album to the late Townes). The song rocks along with a constant 1-2 beat and a simple guitar strum. In the background is a fiddle. But what gives the song real depth is Earle’s voice, backed by his wife and fellow singer-songwriter, Allison Moorer. Earle’s voice shines. His rich baritone grows and gives you something to believe in.

It’s the simple story of a barroom girl. And a man’s relationship with the bartender. Townes lyrics make you believe in not only the goodness and graciousness of Loretta but also in the protagonist. With Loretta’s help, he can play. He can sing. He can live happy.

“Oh, Loretta, won’t you say to me
Darling, put your guitar on
have a little shot of booze
play a blue a and wailing song
My guitar rings a melody
My guitar sings, Loretta’s fine
Long and lazy, blonde and free
and I can have her any time”

The song sounds like a barroom tune, too. A perfect sing along and stomp your foot song. It’s also a bit like the folk album Bruce Springsteen did a few years ago, “The Seeger Sessions.”

This is not how you’re supposed to write record reviews, but I believe in sometimes starting with what knocks you down. And his song has been on repeat. I can’t get it out of my head

The entirety of “Townes,” a 15-track adventure that spans Van Zandt’s career, features some of Townes’ best songs, including the eponymous “Pancho and Lefty.” Earle treats all these songs like delicate antiques, but is not scared to change the way they sound. All the tracks have some Steve Earle quirks and influence.

For the backstory to this album and the Van Zandt/Earle relationship, see Anthony DeCurtis’ story in The New York Times.

Another song that stands out is “Colorado Girl.” Earle picks a beautiful and sparse guitar line and croons over the song with such emotion you can almost feel the heartache.

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Some tracks are more rock and roll- this is Steve Earle after-all- but the album is at its best with the simpler songs, played in the folk-style that Van Zandt was raised on. It’s a good album for driving, taking the train, walking, anything where you’re moving. Van Zandt was a wanderer- and his songs show it. It’s not the feeling of being lost, but rather, feeling restless. The desire to see what’s around the corner, or to not get too bored, fuel all these songs.

Stream the album here or buy it here.

Steve Earle: “Loretta”

click the above link.

Steve Earle: “Loretta”