Although some listeners will forever associate the song with Emmylou Harris' 1976 recording or Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard's 1983 chart-topping cover, "Pancho and Lefty" debuted in 1972 as a forlorn song of loss and betrayal sang by its writer, the legendary Texas outcast Townes Van Zandt. For the May 25 opening of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum's Outlaws and Armadillos exhibit, Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires sang a rendition that celebrates all four names associated with the song, as well as other musical renegades of the 1970s.
Isbell and Shires were part of a stacked house band, put together by musical directors Dave Cobb and Shooter Jennings and including such talents as guitarist Charlie Worsham and Waylon Jennings' longtime pedal steel player, Robby Turner. For this song, Isbell took center-stage, revisiting Van Zandt's emotion-soaked vocals with fiddle accompaniment by Shires, his wife and band mate. Before the final verse, Isbell shreds through a slide guitar solo that sets his version apart from past takes on Van Zandt's best-known composition.
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