Guy Clark, Steve Earle and Townes Van Zandt: Together at the Bluebird Café

Steve Earle and Townes Van Zandt
Together at the Bluebird Café
American Originals

Could this be a win-win-win situation, a trio of the finest Texas songwriters taking turns strumming their tunes in a casual sitting? This collection, the most notable in a new series of releases recorded live at Nashville’s fabled nightclub, opens with Guy Clark singing one of his sillier compositions “Baby Took A Limo To Memphis” but the mood soon sobers when Steve Earle and Townes Van Zandt start singing.

This sobriety of spirit only heightens the feeling of expectation on this particular night when three friends (known for singing each other’s songs) played together for a local cause benefiting a dental program for workers without insurance. Earle, in the midst of his rehabilitative comeback when this was recorded in the autumn of 1995, started appropriately with “My Old Friend the Blues” which no doubt alluded to his previously down-and-out lifestyle in the slums of Nashville. The crowd cheers enthusiastically at the first strums of his guitar.

Yet Van Zandt ups the ante with his lullaby to his daughter “Katie Belle”, complete with a hilarious introduction, that was so typical of one of his performances. When Van Zandt sings, “there is no deeper blue, in the ocean that lies/as deep as the blue, of your laughing eyes”, you cannot help but be transported by a father’s love for his child. Later he makes a more typical, rambling song introduction, which begins by affirming the benefit for which they have gathered and segues into a rambling gambling story. As he speaks of having a gold tooth pulled by a drinking buddy with vise grips to pay off a debt, it’s a painfully perfect moment, redeemed by a mournful reading of the weary troubadour’s tale “A Song For”.

It only gets better as the show goes on. This is an album for sitting on your front porch in a contemplative state (perhaps with a beer if you imbibe) and just letting the songs wash over you, which is why it seems pointless to recount them in a review. Needless to say, the trio sings some of their best-known compositions, from the acoustic version of Earle’s rocker “Copperhead Road” (he is joined by brother-in-law and Duke Mark Stuart) to Clark’s ode to his deceased father “Randall Knife” to Van Zandt’s epochal “Pancho And Lefty”.

There’s even a surprise guest singing harmony, first with Clark and later with Earle, toward the end of the performance, which makes the night seem all the more special (it would be a spoiler to mention her identity for those sitting on their porches, listening to this properly). Like great art, these songs don’t need analytical dissection to be appreciated, just be grateful this remarkable evening of friendship and music was captured for posterity.