Black Crow BluesTownes Van Zandt was sort of the Bobby Liebling of folk and country. He was considered an excellent songwriter, influential on many more famous acts such as Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard, but his own career never took off. The drug and alcohol problems that plagued him in life were certainly no help.
A drug-and-alcohol plagued, under-appreciated folk songwriter is the perfect subject for a Neurot split among Steve Von Till, Scott Kelly, and Wino. Or at least that's what the good people at Neurot seem to think, and after hearing it, I agree.
(Incidentally, I'm not sure at what point it ceases to become a "split" and becomes a "various artists compilation," but calling it a split is much cooler in metal circles.)
If you've heard Wino's excellent Adrift and any of the solo work by the two Neurosis members, you should have a pretty good idea what to expect. Most of this is stripped-down singer-songwriter stuff, just a man sitting on a stool with his acoustic guitar. A couple songs have muted, buzzing drone from an electric, one has what could be theremin, and another has Wino's voice overdubbed to great effect. Generally, that little added something makes those songs stand out as some of the best. But Von Till doesn't need any help with the amazing "Rake," easily the standout of the record.
I love this record, and I've listened to it at least a half-dozen times in the last week, but I do have some criticisms. The two Neurosis members have such similar voices that it barely seems like a split, but more a single artist. When Wino makes his first appearance at track 7, it's a little jarring how different he sounds. The record also starts out on a slightly weaker trio, but even those songs are still very good rather than excellent. The only questionable pick is Kelly's "Tecumseh Valley;" in contrast to the rest of the album, its sole value lies in storytelling rather than music.
(One of those just "very good" songs.)
The Verdict: 4.5 out of 5 stars
If you're into any kind of dark Americana, you need to listen to Songs of Townes Van Zandt. There's little doubt in my mind this will be the best dark folk of 2012.
Buy Songs of Townes Van Zandt