TOWNES VAN ZANDT – Down Home & Abroad (Retroworld FLOATD6377)

Down Home & AbroadIt’s hard to believe that Townes Van Zandt has been gone for more than 20 years, leaving behind some fine songs and memories of some uneven performances, in which his problems with addiction and bipolar disorder were no doubt played their part. The live double album Down Home & Abroad features performances from two pretty good nights. Disc 1 was recorded at The Down Home, Johnson City, Tennessee in 1985, and Disc 2 at The Tavastia in Helsinki, Finland in 1993. Inevitably, some of the songs occur on both CDs, but if, like me, you can never hear too much of ‘Pancho And Lefty’ or the somewhat-traditional-sounding ‘Dollar Bill’, you’ll probably enjoy comparing these two readings. (The other songs that are included in both sets are ‘If I Needed You’ and ‘Don’t You Take It Too Bad’, both fine songs.)

Here’s the listing for both CDs: while I’ve chosen not to comment on all the songs in this review, that doesn’t mean they’re less than interesting. I’m not sure Van Zandt knew how to write a bad song.

Disc 1 –Tennessee 1985. With musical support from Mickey White (guitar) and Donny Silverman (flute and sax). This set includes a couple of Van Zandt’s early excursions into talking blues, with a biting humour that is less upfront in his later material.

  1. ‘Intro’ Just a spoken introduction.
  2. ‘Dollar Bill Blues’
  3. ‘Pancho And Lefty’ is described as ‘a medley of my hit’, which I suppose is commercially all too true. Actually, while that’s an old joke that I’ve actually used myself, it’s typical of the wry asides that Townes throws in between songs, and they certainly don’t detract from the interest of the performances.
  4. ‘Buckskin Stallion Blues’
  5. ‘No Place To Fall’
  6. ‘Talking Thunderbird Blues’
  7. ‘Mr Gold And Mr Mud’ – Van Zandt was sometimes mentioned as both influenced by and an influence on Dylan: this one might remind you, lyrically, of ‘Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts’ – well, it did me…
  8. ‘If I Needed You’
  9. ‘Snowing On Raton’ is one of many songs in this collection I hadn’t come across before. It’s probably my current favourite.
  10. ‘To Live Is To Fly’
  11. ‘Don’t You Take It Too Bad’
  12. ‘Snake Mountain Blues’
  13. ‘Rake’
  14. ‘Fraternity Blues’
  15. ‘Colorado Girl’/’Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues’ merges Van Zandt’s own song with a Dylan song from Highway 61 Revisited. Unexpected, but I rather like it.

Disc 2 –Finland 1993. The spoken introductions to the songs tend to be a bit rambling compared to the earlier set, and the set as a whole is a little less polished, and the overall tone darker.

  1. ‘Dollar Bill Blues’
  2. ‘Pancho And Lefty’
  3. ‘Brand New Companion’
  4. ‘Two Girls’
  5. ‘Lungs’
  6. ‘Rex’s Blues’
  7. ‘Nothin”
  8. ‘The Ribbons of Love’
  9. ‘Kathleen’
  10. ‘The Cuckoo’ is closely related to ‘The Coo Coo Bird’ as sung by Clarence ‘Tom’ Ashley, though Van Zandt includes verses I haven’t heard from recordings of Ashley. There are better TVZ performances available of the same song, but it’s still a powerful reading.
  11. ‘Brother Flower’ is a Van Zandt original: unfortunately (it’s really rather a pretty song), he apparently hadn’t sung it for a while, and was unable to get past the first verse: he apologized and went into the well-known track that follows (and which also features on the first CD).
  12. ‘If I Needed You’
  13. ‘Pinball Machine (1st Verse)’ is just an unaccompanied fragment of a very sad song credited by Van Zandt to Patrick Sky. However, on Sky’s Photographs the song is (correctly, I think) credited to Lonnie Irving.
  14. ‘Tecumseh Valley’
  15. ‘Flyin’ Shoes’
  16. ‘Don’t You Take It Too Bad’

The music of Townes Van Zandt belongs, I guess, in that broad area of Americana somewhere between folk and country: if you haven’t heard him before, you may want to draw comparisons with Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, John Prine, Joe Ely, Guy Clark and Steve Earle, as well as more mainstream country artists like Hank Williams, or Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard, who had a number one country hit with their duet version of ‘Pancho And Lefty’. But he had a voice and poetic sensibility all his own, drawing on influences ranging from Shakespeare to the blues, and some of the best songs in the rather broad singer/songwriter idiom are his. If you aren’t familiar with his studio work, this is a good introduction to his songs: if you know and love his work already but don’t have these sets, you’ll certainly want to add this to your collection.

David Harley

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Artist’s website: townesvanzandt.com/

It has to be ‘Pancho And Lefty’ – live on TV:

Townes Van Zandt – new live double CD

Townes Van Zandt

Townes Van Zandt was a remarkable singer/songwriter, much admired by contemporaries such as Bob Dylan, Steve Earle, Lyle Lovett, Emmylou Harris and scores of others.

His erratic career oscillated wildly from moments of brilliance and clear-eyed perceptiveness through to drug-addled, alcohol addicted despair. His was a talent that inspired real love and devotion from his many fans, yet a kind of self-destructive streak hamstrung his progress in music.

Townes could go through periods where he was disciplined and ’together’ – together enough to tour the US and Europe, and this top value double CD set, Down Home & Abroad, captures TVZ  in fine form – the first disc features a live show from  The Down Home in Johnson City, Tennessee, on April 18th, 1985, and then, on disc two, a show from The Tavastia, in Helsinki, Finland, recorded on June 18th 1993.

The sets include such TVZ classics as ‘Pancho and Lefty’, ‘Lungs’, ‘Tecumseh Valley’, ‘Kathleen’, ‘Flyin’ Shoes’, ‘If I Needed You’, and many others. Townes is in fine voice, the audiences are enthusiastic, and the rich tones of his Gibson Jumbo acoustic guitar are prominent throughout. On disc one, he is accompanied by guitarist Mickey White, and flautist Donny Silverman.

The Helsinki disc just features just TVZ and his guitar, and is no less compelling – gripping stuff from a roots-rock master.

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Artist’s website: http://www.townesvanzandt.com/

Townes’ most famous song, ‘Pancho And Lefty’ – live:

The Late Great Townes Van Zandt

The Late Great Townes Van Zandt

Charly Records press on with their exploration of the Townes Van Zandt catalogue with the Friday October 30th 2015 release of The Late Great Townes Van Zandt – a fresh digital remastering of one of Van Zandt’s finest recordings. It contains original takes of the classics ‘Pancho And Lefty’, ‘If I Needed You’ and ‘No Lonesome Tune’ covered by the likes of Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris, Don Williams and many others.

This reissue (also available as a deluxe white vinyl edition) contains four previously unavailable tracks – early mixes of ‘Pancho And Lefty’ and ‘If I Needed You’ , and alternate versions of ‘Snow Don’t Fall’ and ‘Heavenly Houseboat Blues’ (The vinyl edition does not contain the CD bonus tracks).

The album was originally released in 1972, and is roundly acknowledged as one of the most consistent and rewarding albums of Van Zandt’s storied and controversial career. 2015 marks the fiftieth anniversary of Van Zandt’s first professional live shows, and this reissue is a suitable tribute to a great lost songwriting talent.

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www.charly.co.uk

‘Pancho And Lefty’ live from around 1990:

Townes Van Zandt – ‘The Nashville Sessions’

TVZ

Released Monday, April 20th 2015 on CD and deluxe vinyl

The death of Townes Van Zandt in 1997 at the age of only fifty-two robbed the world of a troubled genius as well as one of America’s finest singer-songwriters. Whilst never a ‘best seller’, his reputation and popularity has grown greater by the year, inspiring books, a documentary and renewed interest from the media, passionately loyal fans and contemporaries such as Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard and Emmylou Harris, who covered his songs to the upper reaches of the American charts.

In 1974, Townes Van Zandt recorded what would have been his seventh album, Seven Come Eleven. Business issues prevented its release until the recordings surfaced two decades later as The Nashville Sessions. To commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the beginning of Van Zandt’s turbulent musical career, and launch of a major catalogue reissue programme, Charly has restored and re-mastered The Nashville Sessions to present a stunning document of the folk-blues mater at his absolute peak.

  • Restored and digitally re-mastered from producer and manager Kevin Eggers’ original tapes •
  • Deluxe gatefold sleevepac features original Milton Glaser portrait cover and new artwork •
  • 12-page fully illustrated CD booklet •
  • Detailed sleeve notes by Uncut magazine journalist Rob Hughes •
  • Part of Charly Records Townes Van Zandt 50th anniversary reissue programme •
  • All original Poppy and Tomato albums recorded at the peak of Van Zandt’s career will be newly re-mastered, restored and lavishly repackaged •

TRACK LISTING:

At My Window / Rex’s Blues / No Place To Fall / Buckskin Stallion Blues / White Freight Liner Blues / Snake Song / Loretta / Two Girls / Spider Song / When She Don’t Need Me / Pueblo Waltz / Upon My Soul

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Official website: http://townesvanzandt.com/

A classic, ‘Pancho And Lefty’:

“He was the best songwriter and most riveting solo performer I’ve ever seen” STEVE EARLE