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Black Crow Blues - 90%

FullMetalAttorney, July 18th, 2013

Townes 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.

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.

originally written for http://fullmetalattorney.blogspot.com/

Interesting And Heartfelt Tribute - 79%

TheKEZ, September 29th, 2012

In addition to giving us a great record, it seems the Shrinebuilder project has also sparked a highly productive friendship and working relationship between Neurosis’ Scott Kelly and indisputable doom overlord Wino. This new album finds the pair (alongside Kelly’s Neurosis accomplice and established solo artist in his own right, Steve Von Till) paying tribute to Texan songwriter and Country pioneer Townes Van Zandt, a fascinating character who has enjoyed cult status amongst connoisseurs of the genre whilst also being hailed as one of musical history’s underappreciated greats. It’s a move that has taken many of these artists’ fans by surprise, and I imagine many will be like myself here, approaching the record with fresh ears due to an unfamiliarity with Zandt’s original works. Both Kelly and Von Till have proven themselves to be highly proficient artists even in such a stripped back setting, and Wino has recently taken to the acoustic troubadour role like a duck to water (as evidenced by his frankly beautiful solo record ‘Adrift’), so many have been expecting great things from this unexpected release.

There are nine tracks on offer here, with each artist contributing three of their favourite Van Zandt songs. The differences and similarities between each vocalist are striking, with Kelly’s input seemingly favouring a starker approach, injecting ‘Lungs’ with the same bleak pulse that underscores much of Neurosis’ output, whilst ‘St John, The Gambler’s melancholy, lyrical flow has a certain timeless quality to it. ‘Tecumseh Valley’ unfolds with a sombre, lazy elegance that’s faintly reminiscent of some of Michael Gira’s softer work with the Angels of Light, perhaps a testament to how archetypal Van Zandt’s style of song writing has become.

Von Till’s gruff, weathered tones have always resonated with me more than Kelly’s gentler vocals, and his rich voice shines through on this release like a perfectly aged auburn whiskey. Von Till opens the record on an extremely vulnerable note, with the tender ‘If I Needed You’. The beautifully simple ‘Black Crow Blues’ is enthralling, and a clear album highlight, whilst ‘Snake Song’ introduces further instrumentation and some tasteful synths to weave a soothing, slowly evolving tapestry of sound.

All of Wino’s songs here are uniformly astonishing, which is no surprise really; from the blunt honesty of Saint Vitus songs like ‘Dying Inside’ to the gorgeous strains of ‘Adrift’, Wino is an artist that evidently wears his heart on his sleeve. His contributions here are definitely the strongest of the three, as ‘Rake’ rings out with a warm but vulnerable passion, his gorgeous vocals soaring over the simple acoustic arrangement with aplomb. His dulcet tones invest ‘Nothing’ with the same emotive power whilst making the song all his own – this track wouldn’t seem out of place at all on ‘Adrift’. ‘A Song For’ resounds with a neck tingling world weariness and is perhaps the album’s zenith, its subtle chord changes and haunting harmonies providing a very powerful and enormously affecting finish to the album.

This record does a fine job of unveiling the songs of Townes Van Zandt to a new generation, but also offers a fascinating glimpse at another aspect of three of metal’s most creative lifers’ artistic practices. Whilst the decision to record a tribute album to one of country’s most under appreciated sons may seem slightly jarring on paper, in practice it makes perfect sense. As a newcomer to Van Zandt, I can’t judge how fans will take to this release but these songs instantly stood out to my ears, resonating with a heartfelt sincerity and an accomplished story telling skill. Whilst this may not be an essential purchase, anyone with an appreciation of the art of song writing will find much to enjoy here.

Originally written for http://destructive-music.com/