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A Gentle Evening With Townes Van Zandt, Live at the Old Quarter, Texas Rain, The Best of Townes Van Zandt

Townes Van Zandt, Townes Van Zandt, Townes Van Zandt, and Townes Van Zandt

Reviewed by Jim Caligiuri, Fri., June 14, 2002

Townes Van Zandt Reviewed

Townes Van Zandt

A Gentle Evening With Townes Van Zandt (Dualtone)

Townes Van Zandt

Live at the Old Quarter (Tomato)

Townes Van Zandt

Texas Rain (Tomato)

Townes Van Zandt

The Best of Townes Van Zandt (Tomato)

Out of the recent deluge of reissues and new releases of the music of the late, great Townes Van Zandt, the real nugget of the bunch is a live recording from November of 1969. A Gentle Evening With Townes Van Zandt preserves the Texas legend's appearance at Carnegie Hall as part of a Poppy Records showcase, and it's a wonder, even if at only 40 minutes it's also almost unbearably brief. Van Zandt performs songs that at the time were relatively new to the world, tunes like "Tecumseh Valley" and "Lungs," which have become among his best-known, along with a curious cover of "The Ballad of Ira Hayes," a song popularized by Johnny Cash. The wryly satirical "Talking KKK Blues" has never appeared on any of his albums before. The sound quality of this recording is pristine and it's a remarkable document that is sure to bowl over his fans. To many people, Live at the Old Quarter is Van Zandt's greatest work, containing what almost everyone thinks are the definitive versions of some of his finest songs. Recorded in 1973, but not released until 1977, it features nearly his entire repertoire up to that time. Alone with a guitar, he hushes the crowd with his visionary tunes that are by turns haunting and eccentric, yet filled with beauty and dark shadows. It's all balanced with Van Zandt's bent humor, which blends seamlessly with his world view. Boasting remastered sound, new liner notes by Chet Flippo, and complete lyrics, this 2-CD version of Live at the Old Quarter becomes the one that TVZ fans will want to own. Perhaps the concept for Texas Rain: The Texas Hill Country Recordings is an admirable one, but judging from the uneven results, maybe not. Van Zandt is joined by a galaxy of artists including Willie Nelson, Jerry Jeff Walker, Doug Sahm, Emmylou Harris, Freddy Fender, James McMurtry, Kathy Mattea, Rubin Ramos, and Kimmie Rhodes on some of his greatest tunes. Many are sure to think that there are other, better takes of songs like "Pancho & Lefty," "If I Needed You," and "Waiting Around to Die" than the ones found here. The main problem with Texas Rain is the sonic trappings for these songs provided by producer Kevin Eggers. With the incongruous introduction of strings, horns, and background singers, the impact of Van Zandt's lyrics are lost, and results are more often than not an unsatisfying mess. The Best of Townes Van Zandt is a nice overview of his work for the Tomato label. All of his "hits" are included in its 17 tracks, as well as some stunning versions of "White Freightliner Blues" and the Rolling Stones' "Dead Flowers." While Live at the Old Quarter remains the logical choice for someone who's looking for the ultimate introduction to Van Zandt's work, this disc serves a similar, if slightly less complete, purpose.

(Gentle Evening, Best Of) ****

(Live at the Old Quarter) *****

(Texas Rain) **

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