It should be needless to say that I am not a big country music fan. Unlike my roommate, whose favorite song is "Little Bitty" by Alan Jackson, I am much more fond of hip-hop and alternative rock. Nevertheless, I stumbled upon an album today that's classified as country, yet remains highly enjoyable--Steve Earle's Townes. Earle shares more with folk musicians than with typical country music (i.e. Garth Brooks, Big & Rich, that guy who married Renee Zellweger). He still relies heavily on the acoustic guitar and on some tracks, the banjo. And while any reference to the banjo deserves a mention of the frightening film Deliverance, I actually enjoy the banjo on some of the tracks.
Having never listened to much country or folk music, I didn't know what to expect when I picked this album up. Like most folk music, it's simple, relaxing music that's perfect for the beginning of summer. I especially like the track "Lungs," which features Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine fame. Additionally, the folk sound is reminiscent of the sound Tom Morello creates on his Nightwatchman albums. Other tracks on Townes reminds me of the O, Brother Where Art Thou? soundtrack, which clearly shows the extent of my country and folk music knowledge. And to further show how big of a loser I am, I am going to say this: several songs have similar sounds to those found in the score to Deadwood and Firefly, both of which are Western-style shows. Ironically, the show take place roughly 700 years apart, but that's for another post.
Still, the basic guitar strumming and life-lesson extolling lyrics come together to make beautiful songs that are much more meaningful and memorable than typical country tracks about Ford trucks and steak. I'll admit that that's an unfair, bad, and inaccurate generalization, but from my ignorant stance on country music, that's what I see, and I honestly don't care.
This album is interesting in that it's actually a series of covers of Townes Van Zandt songs. Earle, who was a disciple of Van Zandt's decided to honor his passing with this album. The songs chosen were favorites of Van Zandt's as well.
Some of you may recognize Earle not as a musician, but as an actor, especially if you are a fan of The Wire in which Earle played Walon, Bubbs' sponsor. He plays a large role in the fifth season, which is the same season on which he sings the title track "Way Down in the Hole." Another one of his songs, "I Feel Alright" was also featured that season.