Fat Possum's reissue of Townes Van Zandt's first four albums, along with 1978's Flyin' Shoes, squanders the opportunity to re-envision and expand an understanding of the songwriter in simply replicating the originals. Neither new liner notes nor bonus tracks accompany the series, which, weighed against the benefit of hindsight and existence of more popular live recordings, lends the albums little new significance other than their availability. The lack is particularly telling on Van Zandt's first two LPs, 1968's For the Sake of the Song and 1969's Our Mother the Mountain, both suffering from Cowboy Jack Clement's notorious production. In addition to the debut's editing of "Tecumseh Valley" to avoid the Nashville-offending "whorin'," the songs sag with superfluous instrumentation, from the bouncing harpsichord of "I'll Be Here in the Morning" and military percussion of "Waitin' Around to Die" to the dreadful choir backing most egregiously employed on "The Velvet Voices." Mother, meanwhile, trills with flute on the title track and "Be Here to Love Me," and the devastating beauty of "Kathleen" is washed in overly dramatic strings, though Van Zandt's poeticism remains indomitable. The self-titled third release revisits three songs from his debut with Jim Malloy's engineering stripping the sound, and the disc remains Van Zandt's best studio output behind definitive versions of "I'll Be Here in the Morning," "For the Sake of the Song," and Dylan-esque "Fare Thee Well, Miss Carousel." 1971's Delta Momma Blues is equally powerful with "Only Him or Me" and "Come Tomorrow," while Flyin' Shoes, even copying the original's mismatched track listing, finds Van Zandt utilizing a band to his best effect, from "Rex's Blues" to the rockin' cover of "Who Do You Love." When will future reissues provide the thorough archiving Van Zandt deserves?
(For the Sake of the Song)
(Our Mother the Mountain, Flyin' Shoes)
(Townes Van Zandt, Delta Momma Blues)
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