Songs of Townes Van Zandt – John Baizley, Nate Hall, Steve Von Till & Scott Kelly

You can’t really go wrong with Townes van Zandt if you want to keep it down, residing as he does on the miserable side of doleful‘ – Dara Higgins on My Proud Mountain’s Record Store Day 10″ of Townes Van Zandt covers.

[iframe width=”400″ height=”100″ style=”position: relative; width: 400px; height: 100px;” src=”″ allowtransparency=”true” frameborder=”0″ St. John, the Gambler by Scott Kelly]

For Record Store Day this year, My Proud Mountain are releasing a 10 inch of Townes Van Zandt numbers, two previously released on their homage to van Zandt which came out last year, and two as yet unheard. What you have here is metal artists exhibiting their sensitive side, as John Baizley of Baroness, Nate Hall of U.S. Christmas making up side one, and Neurosis pair Steve von Till and Scott Kelly making up the flip side. 

You can’t really go wrong with Townes van Zandt if you want to keep it down, residing as he does on the miserable side of doleful. Van Zandt’s songs were mainly about ordinary people and their travails: death, addiction, drinking and, of course, having to turn to prostitution. Mini stories, they usually were, told in his singular voice, both an instrument of melody and storytelling. Whatever it was about Townes, his voice asked to be listened to, in a hushed, sitting around the fire kind of way that’s all but lost now. Try manfully as the lads here might, they can’t quite weave a yarn in the same way.

John Baizley’s version is the jauntiest, featuring a chorus of voices as he gives up his version of ‘If I Needed You’. Nate Hall’s take on ‘A Song For’ is sung against the background of a single droning note. It’s dark, probably more in keeping with what you’d expect from the artists involved, and the source material. Steve Von Till applies himself to ‘The Spider Song’, and despite the ominous rumble he manages to give it, he still fails to make it quite as disconcerting as Townes himself did. Townes lived with that spider his entire life, and it finally wore him out. It’s already been released on Von Till’s solo album. Still, it’s the best cut on the record as Scott Kelly’s version of ‘St John The Gambler’ isn’t a patch on the original, and doesn’t really take it anywhere new or interesting.

Hall and Baizley will be back with more Townes later in the year, I’m reliably informed, as they continue to plunder the back catalogue. There’s plenty there to be getting on with, after all.

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