• Record Label: New West
  • Release Date: May 12, 2009

Universal acclaim - based on 16 Critics

Critic score distribution:
  1. Positive: 15 out of 16
  2. Negative: 0 out of 16
  1. Earle, Townes Van Zandt's foremost disciple, gives 15 favorites the kind of carefully considered settings they deserve.
  2. One of the consistent strong suits of Earle’s albums has been the duets and backing vocals, and this album is no different, with enriching guest appearances by Tom Morello, his wife Allison Moorer and--a first--his son Justin Townes Earle on the top-rate track 'Mr. Mudd and Mr. Gold.'
  3. Townes is unparalleled in its versions of Van Zandt's songs, Earle bringing all the emotional complexity of their association to bear in tones of both joy and regret.
  4. Townes isn’t so much a straightforward covers album as a trip inside Steve Earle’s experience of listening to, befriending, and trying to be Townes Van Zandt. As such, it may be the most personal album Earle has ever recorded.
  5. 80
    While Earle's brawny attack might seem ill-suited to Van Zandt's wistful angst, he does his idol justice on this vibrant covers set, delivering supersonic bluegrass and starry-eyed ballads with the same thoughtful finesse.
  6. 80
    Earle also seems acutely aware that it’s impossible to forage deeper under the skin of these songs than Van Zandt did himself. But he’s able to summon the same air of desolation and disquiet by other means.
  7. The soul of Van Zandt is evident on all of these songs--even in the distorted voice effect on 'Lungs'--but Earle best captures his spirit on 'Colorado Girl,' a high lonesome song with rich acoustic guitar chords and wistful vocals.
  8. The same anything-goes-attitude, the adherence to all kinds of folk music, whether it's from across oceans, terrains, or alleyways, whether its roots are rural or urban, permeates this recording, making it an Earle record most of all; and that is about as fitting a tribute as there is to Van Zandt.
  9. Every one of these 15 tunes is a living, breathing creature, from the haunting, modal-tinged blues-waltz (with cello) of 'Rake' to the jaunty fingerpicking and mouthy dialogue of 'Mr. Mudd and Mr. Gold' (a duet featuring son Justin Townes Earle) to the eternally elegant Tex-Mex anthem 'Pancho and Lefty.'
  10. Mojo
    The overall effect is more inline with how Townes made his early albums. [Jun 2009, p.96]
  11. Q Magazine
    Earle believes this is one of his best albums; he's not wrong. [Jun 2009, p.132]
  12. Townes does what a tribute album should do: Earle evokes the essence of the honoree without giving up a smidgen of his own individuality.
  13. His voice lacks Van Zandt's sweet frailty, but it brings gruff tenderness to classics like 'To Live Is to Fly.'
  14. Under The Radar
    Earle's weathered delivery may differ considerably from the plaintive, tender cocal of Van Zandt, but the new versions of 'Brand New Companion,' 'Colorado Girl,' and 'Where I Lead Me' in particular, are glorious. [Summer 2009, p.74]
  15. While Earle's gruff voice is endearingly effective on his own tales of moral outrage and social empathy, it tends to imbue Van Zandt's deftly detailed songs with an unintentionally dour undercurrent.
  16. Townes, though well intended, shows neither of these formidable artists in his best light.

Awards & Rankings

User Score

Generally favorable reviews- based on 5 Ratings

User score distribution:
  1. Positive: 4 out of 5
  2. Negative: 0 out of 5
  1. VaughnA
    May 27, 2009
    It's an okay cover record, but go buy Townes original stuff instead. After 10 years of pissing in the wind with politics, acting and It's an okay cover record, but go buy Townes original stuff instead. After 10 years of pissing in the wind with politics, acting and telling us how much in love he is, I've come to the conclusion the Steve Earle has "jumped the shark". This does nothing to change my mind. Full Review »