TOWNES VAN ZANDT : “THE LATE GREAT TOWNES VAN ZANDT” LP…..
I went through a major TOWNES VAN ZANDT
phase around 1993-94, after a pal with excruciating quality-control standards successfully convinced me to investigate this 1970s Texan folky/alcoholic poet/country-music bard. After buying this record, “The Late Great Towns Van Zandt”
, first, and then working my way pretty deep into the man’s extensive back catalog (much of which had then been recently reissued by Tomato Records
), I came to the conclusion that Townes was a pretty first-rate songwriter and a titanic teller of tales of woe. I played the living hell out of this record and my other favorite of Townes’, “Live At The Old Quarter, Houston Texas”
, and more or less ignored the other ones because I thought they seriously paled in comparison. Why, I still
believe that to be the case. I even saw the man play live in San Francisco a couple of years before he died, and though I couldn’t find a single punker willing to attend the show with me, I had a grand time watching the then-old fella croak his way through his own material and covers of the Stones, Hank Williams
, etc. When he died in 1997, the maudlin tributes and posthumous 20/20 hindsight began, and all of sudden Van Zandt was a full-fledged legend (hey, he earned it). I filed the two records I’d kept, and only this month brought them out again for this decade’s appraisal.
One temptation I try very hard not to be privy to is to loft tragic figures like Van Zandt or, worse, the media-sainted GRAM PARSONS
, into some critical role-call Valhalla just because they up & died from their personal problems. I mean, it goes without saying that lionization of the young and the dumb and the unfortunate many who get saddled with drug/alcohol/depression problems is pointless if there was precious little to back it up in the first place (again, Parsons
– who I do in fact like, yet am somewhat bewildered by his ever-growing beatification). Van Zandt, at least, had this wonderful record, a 1972 peek into his melancholy, often deceptively playful worldview. My estimation of it hasn’t diminished in the least. It’s certainly more of a “country” record than anything else I’ve heard of his, with some pedal steel and mournful-sounding instrumentation that slots only into the C&W genre. He’s been described as a “hillbilly Leonard Cohen
” at times, and nowhere is this more evident than in the haunting and sparse “Sad Cinderella”. The one you might recognize here is the jaunty “Pancho & Lefty”, still his most popular song thanks to Willie Nelson
, and still my #1 favorite of his. Unlike other records from what most consider to be Van Zandt’s most fertile years (1968-1975), there is virtually no filler on this one, and everything from the cover photo to the closing bells of Track #11 (“Heavenly Household Blues”) bespeaks a plaintive, lonesome troubadour, a man beholden to no known trend or musical movement. I think he’s been embraced by honky-tonkers, hippies and indie rockers in equal measure, and if there’s a single recommended place to begin investigating such a chameleonic beast, it’s right here.