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When Steve Earle was finding his feet as a songwriter in the late 1970s, he couldn’t have asked for a better teacher than Townes Van Zandt. They were kindred spirits—Texas natives who migrated to Nashville only to find the city inhospitable to the grit and complexity of their songs, not to mention their irascible spirits. Steve got his mainstream breakthrough in 1986 with Guitar Town, but eventually followed a more iconoclastic path—one no doubt influenced by the example of his mentor.

Townes died in 1997 at age 52, his body ravaged by years of substance abuse. By then Steve had pulled himself from the depths of his own addiction and is today more productive than ever. Now he shines the spotlight on his late friend’s work with Townes, a set of 15 Townes tunes performed with easy familiarity and a thorough emotional investment. Steve approaches these songs not as untouchable museum pieces but as tools to be used the way they were intended—to provoke the mind and move the soul.

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