“Being born is going blind and bowing down a thousand times
To echoes strung on pure temptation”
Whether it be words about little summer birds floating on a breeze scented with the perfume of your lover, or scenes from those bleak days that bleed together to create rows and rows of inked out spots on the calendar, Townes Van Zandt is an untouchable storyteller, poet, songwriter, and American legend.
April 22nd saw the third installment of Neurot Recordings’ showcase of Townes Van Zandt covers. Songs of Townes Van Zandt Vol. III features dreamy crooner Marissa Nadler, atmospheric sludge metallers Amenra, and post-harcore rockers Cave In putting a wonderful spin on nine Van Zandt tunes.
Marissa Nadler doing “Quicksilver Daydreams of Maria” is the twirl you feel in your heart when it has been gripped by the flash of a quick, sweet smile. In an instant, visions of an entire life shared, but twice as long and just as painful, the deep jab of realization that what you desire will never be yours to have. It’s a slow-motion jog toward fading daydreams. The somber, slow sashay of a light hand on the guitar and Nadler’s quiver make for a cloud-covered dream of a song. She sings:
“So the serpent slides slowly away with his moments of laughter
And the old washerwoman has finished her cleanin’ and gone
But the bamboo hangs heavy in the bondage of quicksilver daydreams
And a lonely child longingly looks for a place to belong”
“Black Crow Blues” reimagined by Amenra is bleak, bleak, bleak. The side-stepping shuffle of a heavy-handed guitar strum, a constant in many Van Zandt tunes, fills every sliver of empty space with the hum of deep sadness. With words such as these, a stripped down kind of song is necessary to showcase the dreary scene being sung.
“Oh babe, don’t lie lonesome after I’m gone
Don’t mourn your young life away
Just bury me low with a prayer and a song
Just ‘fore the breaking of day
Just ‘fore the breaking of day”
Amenra’s Colin H. Van Eeckhout has a voice meant for music of this caliber. To transfer all the emotion held within a single broken heart into lyrics as bleak as these is what helps sell these songs to me.
Cave In’s live recording of “Nothin” is nothing short of perfection. Scratchy guitars rubbing strings together like twine to a post set such a sorrowful base for this song to saw away at. Brodsky’s voice hacks away at the words Van Zandt once sang with a tired voice, with a weary soul. Though it’s nothing more than vocals and jangling strings, you can hear each puff of wind rattling through the thin windows, you can see the curtains being shoved to the side to let the light finally fall into a room coated thick with dust. That steady thump of the thumb on the strings pushes forward the feeling of finally edging toward a total breakdown, and the lyrics are anything but hopeful.
“Take care into the hall
And if you see my friends
Tell them I’m fine
Not using nothin’”
“Kathleen” done by Amenra feels as though it is a straight up indulgence, an uncovered vice. The atmosphere on this track is devilishly good. The imagery of churning moonlit waters and a woman that will either remove or worsen (who knows which) all the numbness deep down inside you is pure gothic prose.
Cave In’s take on “The Hole” is one of my favorites on this album. It is very Nick Cave-esque with the monotony of the verses, the straightforward notes. This track is a seven minute stunner oozing with rich storytelling of what could happen if you are caught slinking around the woods, trapped within the gaze of ghastly green eyes. The guitar work on this track is addictive. A whirlwind of twitching tones and static.
“I’ll miss, I said, a girl I know
I can’t just leave there to pine
She’s still got plenty of men to go
I’m sure she’ll do just fine
What about my little boy
She said, he’s just like you
Let a few short years roll by
He’ll end up down here too”
“At My Window” done by Cave In is the track I would, at the very least, urge everyone to listen to. The chime of a quickly strummed guitar, a skittering throb of high-pitched whines, light pulses of piano floating outward – this track is insanely good. Ghostly echoes peter out behind Stephen Brodsky’s voice singing the mildly unsettling and strangely beautiful words, “Living is laughing, dying says nothing at all.” Though this is placed just before the ending of the album, I can’t help but feel this is the peak, the highlight, of the album. This is exactly what a cover should be – something that takes an original song and recontextualizes it; lifts it to an entirely different level.
The album closes its curtains to Marissa Nadler singing about the summer’s clover being trampled under the feet of lovers leaving a season of warmth behind them. Fare thee well, my love. Goodbye.
Recommendation: I would urge lovers of folk, lovers of metal, lovers of hardcore, lovers of any and all genres to give this album of covers a chance because I am convinced you will find something to like or love about it. If given the time, be sure to check out the volumes that came before it, too (especially the track featuring Dorthia Cottrell).