According to legend, a young Steve Earle once declared, “Townes Van Zandt is the best songwriter in the whole world, and I’ll stand on Bob Dylan’s coffee table in my cowboy boots and say that.” Over the years, Earle has continued to tout Van Zandt—even naming his son Justin Townes Earle—and now he’s carrying that adoration to a new level with Townes, a 15-song set of Van Zandt covers. Like Van Zandt, Earle has never been known for an immaculate voice or perfect picking skills, so to some extent, Townes fails to show off the legend’s songwriting to its best advantage. Earle continues his latter-day interest in murk, recording an album that sounds alternately spare and rowdy, with as many rough edges as Earle can introduce between the occasional sweet fiddle or cooing background vocal. And yet Earle has clearly absorbed desperately romantic ditties like “Colorado Girl” and “Loretta” deep into his bones, to the extent that at one point he practically shaped his lifestyle so he could more fully understand Van Zandt’s world of rusty trailers, bars at dawn, and broken promises. Townes isn’t so much a straightforward covers album as a trip inside Steve Earle’s experience of listening to, befriending, and trying to be Townes Van Zandt. As such, it may be the most personal album Earle has ever recorded.