Throughout three decades Steve Earle has been many things: a Texas folk vagabond, a Nashville outsider, a dope fiend, a jailbird, a leftist propagandist and a love-struck Manhattanite. On Townes, his latest album for New West, he comes full circle (and then some) by paying tribute to his songwriting mentor, Townes Van Zandt. The death of tribute albums is reverence, and Earle plainly idolizes the Texas legend, but he also genuinely loved and understood Townes, so the set rings true and warm, with tough and clear finger-picking, a few curveball arrangements (including strings) and some of his best singing in a career rarely noted for vocal acumen. The roots of Earle's songwriting are here; they still sustain and refresh his irascible, uncompromising talent.
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