Monday, August 15, 2011

Rex's Blues: Van Zandt, Rodriguez, Holland

A good song is a good song, period, not matter who it's sung by. Such is 'Rex's Blues' by Townes Van Zandt. It's a dark, bleak song about following one's own compass...despite the consequences.

'I'm chained upon the face of time
feelin' full of foolish rhyme
there ain't no dark till something shines
I'm bound to leave this dark behind"
—from Rex's Blues by Townes Van Zandt

It was December 1992 when I saw Townes Van Zandt take a stage in Boulder Colorado. Barely out of college, raised on equal parts California fog, rain and sunshine, I didn't really know he was...and then I heard him sing. It was kind of like seeing Allen Ginsberg at The Fox a year or two later. Both men, pioneering and dogged in their pursuits, were very near the end of their lives. I knew it was big to see them but I didn't quite realize I'd remember these moments so clearly 20 years later.

When I feel lost where I am, I scan the past for such times. Sometimes, it's only when  you  look back over a life, you see you are being led all along.

So it's striking to me that several versions of 'Rex's Blues' by Townes Van Zandt have come to my attention in recent months,  both sung by female singers.  I've been listening to a version by Carrie Rodriguez, a polished, alt-country artist from Austin, since I heard her sing several months ago in LA. And this week I realized Jolie Holland, a true old-soul new blues/Americana artist of the day, included it on her latest album 'Pint of Blood.' Both make it their own—Rodriguez sweet and reflective and a bit more loyal to the origianl; Holland, haunting, howling and slower in tempo— while retaining both their own and the song's respective souls. Good stuff. Check 'em out:

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