Various Introducing Townes Van Zandt Via The Great Unknown

When Steve Earle released Townes earlier this year, it was received as it should have been, as a rather clumsy love letter to a late master from an apprentice still possibly feeling pangs of inferiority. At this point, those who even remotely care about folk or country music don't need Earle or anyone else to remind them of the late Townes Van Zandt's greatness. What is more interesting is how that immense body of work is now influencing the latest generation of genre-bending songwriters. That seems precisely the purpose of Introducing Townes Van Zandt Via The Great Unknown, featuring 19 interpretations by artists from around the world, among them Canada's Great Lake Swimmers, Kate Maki and the Be Good Tanyas. What they all share, and what Earle ultimately failed to get across, is a deep connection to the cold, hard realities at the heart of Van Zandt's writing, and at the heart of the myth surrounding his life. Earle may indeed have a self-destructive streak within him but it isn't the same as Van Zandt's, an artist whose genius was fuelled by much more unforgiving demons. While that may be an overstatement, it's not a stretch to say that this notion is part of the reason why everyone on this album wanted to take part. One after another, their sympathetic renditions ― from "My Proud Mountains" by J. Tillman of Fleet Foxes to "No Place To Fall" by Anders Parker ― grasp for the smallest thread of that genius, fully aware that they will fall short. But those attempts are what make Introducing Townes Van Zandt the proper tribute Earle's wasn't. The individual personalities eventually paint a vibrant portrait of contemporary folk that places Van Zandt at its centre, and that's something that would have surely made him proud. (Forthesakeofthesong)