The Austin Chronicle

Phases and Stages


Reviewed by Raoul Hernandez, August 29, 2003, Music

Heartworn Highways

Hell-and-gone documentary Heartworn Highways is to the DVD big bang what Skip Spence's solo album Oar was to CDs: an artifact restored. James Szalapshi's barely seen theatrical release from 1975, archiving the beanstalk seeded by Willie, Waylon, and the rest of them outlaws -- inheritors like Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, Rodney Crowell, Steve Earle -- boomerangs back with a technological makeover (re-editing, color correction, unseen footage) and a reputation. One glimpse of the Lone Star State's patron saint of songwriters, Van Zandt, clowning about his rabbit patch in all his youthful glory, will have the entirety of Austin's roots-seeking immigrants of the Seventies offering blessings for the late director's prescience in preserving the birth of a new generation of song-worshiping renegades. When TVZ encores by bringing a neighbor to tears with an off-the-trousers rendition of "Waiting Around to Die," believers by the score will keel over. Guy Clark, little nose and long digits, working luthiery magic in addition to sprawling anthem "L.A. Freeway," is staggering as well. Steve Young taming his own reedy voice during the cosmic wanderlust of "Alabama Highway" is dead-on. Time has mostly washed over steel players like Barefoot Jerry and comic dogs like Gamble Rogers, but Larry Jon Wilson midwifing his own "Ohoopee River Bottomland" will constitute a bona fide discovery for armchair historians. Beyond the opening credits, IDs for the musicians should have been standard, though the likes of Charlie Daniels and David Allan Coe hardly need any. Then again, the lightning rod Gram Parsons look-alike, stealing the Christmas hootenanny at Guy and Susanna Clark's place at film's end, is gonna be a head-scratcher for some. Try Steve Earle. More than an hour's worth of bonus footage buttresses the original 95-minute running time, almost half of that devoted to the yuletide musical thanks given over for the abundance of whiskey, wine, and acoustic guitars. Earle's unreleased "Darling, Commit Me" and an early version of "Mercenary Song" are bounty no doubt, as are TVZ's bonus "Pancho and Lefty" and cutting-room floor Nicholas Cage doppelgänger John Hiatt and "One for the One for Me." At the end of the DVD bonus jam, exiting to the strains of "stay all night, stay a little longer," we only wish we could.

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