Scott Kelly/Steve Von Till/Wino – Songs of Townes Van Zandt (My Proud Mountain/Neurot Recordings)

Tuesday, 26th March 2013
Rating: 9/10

While they may be more famous for their work with electric guitars and noise the trio of Scott Kelly (Neurosis, Shrinebuilder), Steve Von Till (Neurosis, Harvestman) and Scott ‘Wino’ Weinrich (The Obsessed, Saint Vitus, The Hidden Hand, Shrinebuilder) are no strangers to the acoustic end of the spectrum either. All are well away versed in the fact that when you strip a song to the core, unless there’s a heart there it’s nothing, no matter how many trappings you drape over it. So it’s no surprise really that they’ve come together to pay homage to the American country-folk singer/songwriter Townes Van Zandt.

Armed, in most cases, with only an acoustic guitar and a voice they’ve each taken three of Van Zandt’s songs and turned their hands to them. The result is an intimate and intense record that demands your attention. These songs could be played in any pub, in any country around the world and you’d stop your conversation, to turn an ear and listen in. Scott Kelly’s take of “Tecumseh Valley,” which formed part of his set during his winter 2010 solo tour, is the standout track here. Put simply, it tells the story of a girl who leaves her hometown to get work and turns to whoring to make a living. Heartbreaking in both content and delivery it showcases Van Zandt’s skill as a lyricist and Kelly’s version will stop you in your tracks.

Wino’s voice on the other hand, is less broken, but is no less suited to the material. “A Song For” is delivered with a weary, nostalgic lilt, that makes you feel every word, every head-hanging note. The sparseness in his version of “Rake” echoes in the words, but his voice best matches the resigned emptiness of “Nothin.” Kelly’s Neurosis bandmate Steve Von Till is no stranger to messing with folk music, as his dabbling with Harvestman shows and on “Snake Song” he introduces some of those modern elements. Shimmering drones accompany the heartbeat drum and smoky voice, where his voice is perfectly pitched to deliver the lines of the serpent, a thread of menace finding its way into the tone. Elsewhere Kelly takes us on a visit to “St John, The Gambler” where a girl leaves her mother, telling a sorrow filled tale that his deep vocal captures immediately.

An interesting and demanding album that’ll leave you emotionally drained. Hopefully it’ll find the audience it deserves outside of just the hardcore faithful, as the respectful way this trio have treated the music and words of Townes Van Zandt deserves to be heard.

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