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Compilation Album On Double LP!
Townes Van Zandt’s music doesn’t jump up and down, wear fancy clothes, or beat
around the bush. Whether he was singing a quiet, introspective country-folk song
or a driving, hungry blues, Van Zandt’s lyrics and melodies were filled with the
kind of haunting truth and beauty that you knew instinctively. His music came
straight from his soul by way of a kind heart, an honest mind, and a keen ear
for the gentle blend of words and melody. He could bring you down to a place so
sad that you felt like you were scraping bottom, but just as quickly he could
lift your spirits and make you smile at the sparkle of a summer morning or a
loved one’s eyes — or raise a chuckle with a quick and funny talking blues. The
magic of his songs is that they never leave you alone.
Despite his warm, dusty-sweet voice, as a singer Van Zandt never had anything
resembling a hit in his nearly 30-year recording career — he had a hard enough
time simply keeping his records in print. Nonetheless, he was widely respected
and admired as one of the greatest country and folk artists of his generation.
The long list of singers who’ve covered his songs includes Merle Haggard and
Willie Nelson (who had a number one country hit with “Pancho and Lefty” in
1983), Emmylou Harris, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Nanci Griffith, Hoyt Axton, Bobby
Bare, the Tindersticks, and the Cowboy Junkies.
Mickey Newbury, saw Van Zandt in Houston one night and soon had him set up with
a recording gig in Nashville (with Jack Clement producing). The sessions became
Van Zandt’s debut album, For the Sake of the Song, released in 1968 by Poppy
Records. The next five years were the most prolific of Van Zandt’s career, as
Poppy released the albums Our Mother the Mountain, Townes Van Zandt, Delta Momma
Blues, High, Low and in Between, and The Late Great Townes Van Zandt. These
included such gems as “For the Sake of the Song,” “To Live’s to Fly,” “Tecumseh
Valley,” “Pancho and Lefty,” and many more that have made him a legend in
American and European songwriting circles.
Van Zandt moved to Nashville in 1976 at the urging of his new manager, John
Lomax III. He signed a new deal with Tomato Records and in 1977 released Live at
the Old Quarter, a double album — and the first of several live recordings —
that contained many of his finest songs. In 1978 Tomato released Flyin’ Shoes;
the long list of players on that album included Chips Moman and Spooner Oldham.
Van Zandt didn’t record again for nearly a decade, but he continued to tour. He
moved back to Texas briefly, returning again to Nashville in the mid-’80s.
During the early ’80s, both “If I Needed You” and “Pancho and Lefty” became
country radio hits. In 1987, Van Zandt was back in business with his eighth
studio album, At My Window, which came out on his new label, Sugar Hill. By this
time, Van Zandt's voice had dropped to a lower register, but the weathered,
somewhat road-weary edge to it was as pure and expressive as ever. Two years
later, Sugar Hill released Live & Obscure (recorded in a Nashville club in
1985), and two more live albums (Rain on a Conga Drum and Rear View Mirror)
appeared on European labels in the early ’90s. In 1990, Van Zandt toured with
the Cowboy Junkies, and he wrote a song for them, “Cowboy Junkies Lament,” which
appeared on the group’s Black Eyed Man album (along with a song the Junkies
wrote for him, “Townes Blues”).
Sugar Hill released Roadsongs in 1994, on which Van Zandt-covered songs by
Lightnin’ Hopkins, Bruce Springsteen, the Rolling Stones, and others, all
recorded off the soundboard during recent concerts. At the end of that same
year, Sugar Hill released No Deeper Blue, Van Zandt's first studio album since
1987. Van Zandt recorded it in Ireland with a group of Irish musicians. Van
Zandt sang every song but only played guitar on one.
A year and a half after the release of No Deeper Blue, Van Zandt died
unexpectedly on January 1, 1997; he was 52 years old.
• Double LP
1. For the Sake of The Song
2. Pancho & Lefty
3. To Live is To Fly
4. Fare Thee Well, Miss Carousel
5. I'll Be Here In the Morning
6. St. John The Gambler
7. If I Needed You
8. Black Widow Blues
1. Tecumseh Valley
2. Flyin' Shoes
3. Waiting Around To Die
5. You Are Not Needed Now
6. Tower Song
8. Rex's Blues