Things You Might Have Missed 2012: The Songs of Townes Van Zandt – Scott Kelly, Steve Von Till & Wino

Scott “Wino” Weinrich was a busy man in 2012. Not only did he record a new Saint Vitus album, but he got himself mixed up in all sorts of interesting musical projects outside of the metal mainstream. Since the projects in question are similar enough to lump them together, now you get twice the bang for your “Things You Might Have Missed” buck! First up is an interesting collaboration with Scott Kelly and Steve Von Till of Neurosis. The Songs of Townes Van Zandt (Neurot Records) pays homage to the legendary country-folk artist and damn, if it doesn’t end up an addictive and powerful listen. Literally drenched in melancholy, gloom and angst, these songs aren’t your typical “my tractor broke, my best gal left me and my dog done died” kind of western ditties. No sir! This is a real downer of an album, but strangely beautiful and moving at the same time. Interested?

For those not aware, Mr. Van Zandt was a gifted, but haunted artist and his songs were awash with tales of misery, loss and alienation. The marriage of Wino’s gruff, world-weary voice to these songs is a brilliant one and the three songs he takes lead on are the best by far. From the strangely uplifting but bleak take on drug use during “Nothing” to the ode to the recklessness of youth in “Rake,” Wino’s distinctive voice does great justice to the dark lyrics and mood of the songs. “A Song For” is equally good and you can feel the weight of the world on Wino as he sings of the vagabond musician’s life. There’s so much sincere emotion in the music, it’s startlingly honest, refreshing and beautifully simple.

Not to be outdone, Steve Von Till provides a soulful rendering of the sad-as-hell love song “If I needed You” and impresses with the ominous, darkness of “Snake Song” which has the winning line “skin I been through, dies behind me.” Equally worthwhile are morose nuggets of despair like “St. John the Gambler” and “Tecumseh Valley” with Scott Kelly on vocals. Both could qualify as real life, modern-day doom and they have as much or more emotion than most of that genre.

Yes, this is an album of country folk songs, and yes, this is a metal website. You’re simply going to have to trust me on this one. When these musicians are teamed with these songs, the result transcends any genre and even the most jaded metal elitist will find some real power and pathos here. While I personally think Wino steals the album, there isn’t a bad or dull moment throughout and you should hear this.

Wino & Conny Ochs // Heavy Kingdom

Keeping in line with the country folk angle, Wino released an interesting acoustic album with German folk singer Conny Ochs. Heavy Kingdom (Soulfood Records) is a true throwback album of simple, stripped-down acoustic folk with Wino And Ochs singing duets and taking turns on vocals. Much like the Townes Van Zandt material, this is dark, brooding and fairly downcast, but has a rock vibe that sometimes explores the spirit of the 60s. I think a good way to describe it is as the ideal soundtrack for the Sons of Anarchy TV series. These tales of outlaws, life on the road and the darkness within us would be the perfect companion to the introspective bloodshed that show revels in.

Standouts include the bleakness of “Somewhere Nowhere,” the somehow upbeat but grim charm of “Dark Ravine” (I love the vocal harmony during the very memorable chorus), the very Nirvana-esque, punky angst of “Vultures by the Vines” and the unsurprising inclusion of Townes Van Zandt’s classic “Highway Kind.”

The album greatly benefits from the compatibility of Wino’s and Och’s voices and the harmonies they craft. Ochs can sound a lot like Curt Cobain when he wants and it gives the songs an extra cold strangeness. Both singers have a gift of expression and they imbue the simplistic material with a rich, soulful and gritty charm. It’s a real grower and I think it deserves to find its audience. Call it biker folk or outlaw doom, but track it down.

So there you have it. More acoustic music with only tenuous connections to metal. What’s next, Trans-Si-Therion Holiday music?? What the hell is going on at the House of Steel Druhm these days? Hey, even a man of steel has a softer side of pig iron. Now pull out that lava lamp and check this stuff out! Track down Wino’s Adrift album while you’re at it!

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