This is the second in a very occasional series of albums by heavy metal luminaries covering the songs of cult country folk artist Townes Van Zandt. Volume 1 was the work of Wino from St Vitus and a couple of members of Neurosis. This time it’s Nate Hall of USX, Mike Scheidt of Yob and John Baizley of Baroness. Don’t imagine, though, that this contains noisy reworkings similar in style to the artists own bands. This is all stripped back, mainly acoustic and very faithful to the originals, sometimes too faithful.
The somewhat grandiose electric guitar, identifiably of John Baizley, appears only rarely during his three tracks, such as the American gothic tragedy of ‘St John the Gambler’. The rest is all purely acoustic guitar, voices and fiddles and is all rather grim faced and reverent.
Nate Hall covers one of Townes‘ most famous numbers, ‘Pancho and Lefty’, and his vocals are a baleful croak, whereas Townes’ are higher and brighter, and although suitably touched with sorrow they are less bleak, more bittersweet. The darkness in his lyrics is obviously attractive to these musicians but there is a danger of these songs becoming dirges in the wrong hands.
The most successful versions here are all by John Baizley, with the pretty, pure tones of Katie Jones playing Emmylou Harris to his Gram Parsons. They are a welcome cool breeze through these dusty dry soundscapes.
‘Rake’ is mined by Scheidt for a southern rock base and could easily be Lynyrd Skynyrd in reflective mood. It is the most interesting of his three efforts and it should be noted by fans of the first volume that several of these tracks appeared on that album too, and are inferior to those, let alone the originals.
The album closes with its standout track ‘If I Needed You’ by John Baizley and Katie Jones. The song is tender and less dour than many, much as the lyric requires, and is light and sprightly enough to evade the sense of earnest fan worship some of the performances suffer from.
Do check out the John Baizley & Katie Jones tracks if you’re into country music, and if you like those then seek out the originals.