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  • Poet - a Tribute to Townes Van Zandt
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Poet - a Tribute to Townes Van Zandt

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Product details

  • Audio CD (20 May 2002)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Catfish
  • ASIN: B0000649FW
  • Other Editions: Audio CD
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 287,874 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Product Description


The songs of Townes Van Zandt are destined to be for country 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 sombre grace of the late Texas 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 fervour. "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, Amazon.com


Poet is a studio-recorded compilation featuring 15 of Townes' songs performed by family, friends and admirers. It's totally appropriate that Guy Clark opens the disc with "To Live Is To Fly", since lyrically the song expounds a philosophy by which to live, and Guy (as well as his wife, Susanna) and Townes were inseparable compatriots. The collection closes with a rendition of "My Proud Mountains" by Townes' eldest son John T. Van Zandt. The other 12 contributors range from internationally acknowledged performers, to musicians who are barely known within their home state. Of the 10 artists who contributed to the 1997 Austin City Limits special, Celebration Of Townes Van Zandt, half a dozen surface here, namely Guy, John T., Steve Earle, Nanci Griffith, Willie Nelson and Emmylou Harris. Many of the contributors possess links, some rather tenuous, to Townes' musical life. Canada's Cowboy Junkies toured North America with Townes during the early 1990s, following which he wrote "Cowboy Junkies Lament" for his 1994 album, No Deeper Blue. In turn, the Junkies included "To Live Is To Fly" (and others) on their 1996 album Black-Eyed Man. In the early 70s, as Townes was hitchhiking in Texas, a young Joe Ely gave him a lift. Townes gave Joe a copy of his album Our Mother The Mountain, which Ely listened to and then played to Butch Hancock and Jimmie Dale Gilmore. One could speculate endlessly on the effect Townes' songs had upon each of the three then fledgling writers. The Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard duet of Townes' "Pancho & Lefty" peaked at No.1 on the Country Singles Chart in the spring of 1983. On Poet, "Pancho & Lefty" is performed by Delbert McClinton, while Nelson covers "Marie". Other contributors to this well-balanced collection include Billy Joe Shaver, Ray Benson (of Asleep At The Wheel), John Prine, Lucinda Williams, Robert Earl Keen, and relative newcomer, Pat Haney. --Arthur Wood

© fRoots Magazine all rights reserved -- fRoots, July 2002

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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Ray Carrick on 3 Mar. 2004
Format: Audio CD
So what's the point of tribute albums? Well, I guess it gives people who were inspired by the artist concerned a chance to pay their respects. In that, this is worthwhile. Townes had a huge impact on a lot of songwriters who have since become more famous than he was. So it's only right to acknowledge dues. So as a showcase of the kind of people, and the calibre of people, he influenced, this is fine. The other thing that can come out of a tribute album is some different interpretations of the songs. Some different angle you maybe hadn't seen before. On that score, this isn't so good. The songs stand out but the performances are, mostly, fine but I'd rather listen to Townes. I'd reach for "Live at the Old Quarter" than this. Not that there's anything bad here just little that's stunning. Highlights are John Prine doing "Loretta" (good choice), Guy Clark's "To live is to fly" (always good at interppreting Townes), Lucinda Williams' "Nothin'", Willie Nelson does a pretty good job of "Marie" and most of the rest is fine but just that - fine. I guess the most interesting part is hearing John Van Zandt singing "My Proud Mountains". So, in summary, this is fine, workman-like, worth listening too, has a couple of interesting things on it but in the end, I'd choose Townes anyday. As a last thought, why do the Cowboy Junkies turn up on every tribute album there is - enough, stop it.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By mnbharris@aol.com on 6 Dec. 2001
Format: Audio CD
What a joy, every track's a gem. I cried the first time I played John Prine's take on 'Loretta'. The biggest revelation is TVZ's son, John T. Van Zandt. His version of 'My Proud Mountains' is every bit as moving as his father's. He has a mournful, rich voice that reminded me a little of a hillbilly Mark Eitzel. Other stand-outs (on the basis of 2 listens) -Lucinda Williams cover of 'Nothin'',Steve Earle's grungy 'Two Girls' & a suitably soulful Delbert McClinton doing the majestic 'Pancho & Lefty'. You can hear the love & respect that's gone into this album. If only the same could be said of 'Texas Rain',the other Townes-related posthumous release I bought this month. Buy this instead, Townes would have loved it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Michael Nicholl on 18 Aug. 2009
Format: Audio CD
To many the songs of Townes Van Zandt are familiar only through the covers of others, people such as Emmylou and Don Williams who are much more main stream have had big hits with his songs. However he has had a profound influence on the music of numerous artists, not least that of his close friend Steve Earle.

For anyone not familiar with the work of Townes van Zandt, this is an excellent tribute with recordings by Guy Clarke (A close friend of Townes), Nanci Griffith, Billy Joe Shaver, Emmylou, Steve Earle, John Prine, Lucinda Willams, The Flatlanders, Robert Earl Keen, and Willie Nelson to name but a few. Listen to each track and you would swear that the song being sung was an origional of that artist, so versitile was Townes' songwriting. (It is probably Loretta sung by John Prine that really illustrates this, so close is it in style to his own work). The real surprise for me was Willie Nelson's treatment of Maria, a real stand out track and a superb treatment. The only weak link in the whole album, in my opinion is Ray Benson's treatment of If I Needed You. (In his hands it has become a dirge, but then we are all so familiar with the version Don Williams had a hit with many years ago)

Most of my favourite Americana artists are on this recording, and if you are looking to listen to a good tribute to Townes van Zandt, then this is among the best. There are others out there, not least the superb recently released album 'Townes' by Steve Earle. I can highly recommend that recording also.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 29 reviews
47 of 49 people found the following review helpful
the melodies linger on 4 Oct. 2001
By Jerome Clark - Published on Amazon.com
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. It's hard to imagine that "Pancho and Lefty" (done here by Delbert McClinton) and "Waitin' 'Round to Die" (Pat Haney) will ever lose their dark power.
The bad news is that while the music is uniformly satisfying, the extensive liner notes one would expect are nowhere to be found. A thoughtful, informed essay on Van Zandt's life and art, which one would assume to be essential to a project of this sort, is nowhere to be found. Nor is information on who played behind whom on the various cuts. This shouldn't keep you from buying this very good disc, but it should annoy you a little.
25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
Solid, with a handful of outstanding interpretations 4 Nov. 2001
By E. Burle - Published on Amazon.com
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.
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
The duality of the Townes thing 4 Aug. 2002
By m_noland - Published on Amazon.com
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. Steve Earle sort of bashes his way through "Two Girls," but, hey, I saw Townes sort of stumble through his catalogue on some nights, so it sort of illuminates this aspect of his life/style. Reviewers complain about Delbert McClinton's version of "Pancho and Lefty" - but like Lucinda taking on "Nothin'" who better to do "Pancho and Lefty" than a middle-aged Texas roadhouse honky-tonker with a rhythm section? (Nice guitar solo - standard compilation complaint: where are the notes? Who played that solo?). Delbert and Townes are from the same tradition - TVZ used to cover "Fraulein." And for the folks who like the more delicate poetical stuff, Nanci Griffith covers "The Tower Song," and everyone else plays acoustic. And lifelong TVZ supporter Guy Clark justly gets his crack at "To Live is To Fly."
All in all, this comes off as a heartfelt tribute by TVZ's contemporaries. Not a bad disk.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
... that you don't know what you've got 'til he's gone ? 29 Aug. 2002
By E. Waltz - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
I suspect -- and hope -- that this CD will bring the powerful songs of TVZ to a wider audience. While Townes was the quintessential "songwriter's songwriter", his recordings never reached the wider audience enjoyed by some of the artists represented on 'Poet' .

Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris, and John Prine -- all heard here-- are household names by comparison. If you like these artists, I would encourage you to give this album a listen. In the past several years I have been fortunate to hear these three artists in live performance, as well as Guy Clark, Nanci Griffith, Delbert McClinton, Steve Earle, and the Flatlanders. Besides being on 'Poet', what do all of these terrific artists have in common ? Each one of them at some point in their performance said (more or less), "Now we're going to play one for Townes." Anyone who commands that degree of respect in this company deserves a wider audience.

Notable cuts: If there was ever a blacker song written than "Marie", I've never heard it. (Who else could write, "she just rolled over and went to Heaven, with my little boy safe inside" ?) Willie Nelson gives it a powerful, minimalist treatment here. Nanci Griffith sometimes sets my listening ear on edge, but she absolutely nails "Tower Song" here. Maybe I have heard Guy Clark too often in live performance to be objective, but the emotional undercurrents in "To Live is to Fly" are quite moving. Bravo to Lucinda Williams for "Nothing".

Not so notable: Townes' most widely known song, "Pancho and Lefty", is covered frequently, often badly. Delbert McClinton continues that tradition here. Cuts by the Cowboy Junkies and Robert Earl Keene are forgettable.

If you're not familiar with the music of TVZ, this is a terrific introduction by some artists you probably do know. Then treat yourself to the original with "Live at the Old Quarter" (young Townes) and "Rear View Mirror" (Townes sounding nearly bone-tired).

... and if you appreciate TVZ's music, then start listening to Guy Clark, Townes' longtime friend and traveling partner. He's another songwriting master who is still with us. Let's not let another treasure slip away under-appreciated.
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Keeping Up With The Townes 15 Sept. 2001
By Avalon Don - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
For the most part this is a respectable tribute to Townes Van Zandt. He was a great songwriter whose strength was slow mellow tunes. Consequently the artists in twelve of the fifteen songs stick to that formula making for a very good album. It's interesting though that the stars seem a little reserved to the point where it's almost obvious nobody wants to top Van Zandt's original interpetations. So if your looking for a killer version of a song like "Pancho & Lefty" previously done by both Emmylou Harris and Willie Nelson, it's not here. I like the Cowboy Junkies, but why do they keep getting invited to these tributes with their "Stoner Americana" style on "Highway Kid", which is so different from the original is beyond me. My favorite cut is "Nothin" by Lucinda Williams, which has some catchy guitar work. If you like Townes in the studio, the rest of the music found here on "Poet" matches up well, but it doesn't come close to his live stuff found on "Rear View Mirror". For collectors, the cd cover is mini-album fold out, similar to Bonnie Raitt's "Luck Of The Draw" with good pictures of the man himself and nice little booklet.
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