Townes Van Zandt

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For the Sake of the Song (1968), 6.5/10
Our Mother the Mountain (1969), 7/10
Townes Van Zandt (1969), 6/10
Delta Momma Blues (1971), 5.5/10
High Low and In Between (1972), 5/10
The Late Great Townes Van Zandt (1972), 6.5/10
Flyin' Shoes (1978), 6/10
At My Window (1987), 5/10
No Deeper Blue (1994), 5/10

Townes Van Zandt was a poet of intimate, gentle, tormented, emotional ballads. His mostly acoustic art borrowed elements from country, blues and tex-mex, and initiated the great Texas singer-songwriter school of the 1970s.

His debut album, For the Sake of the Song (Poppy, 1968), was an amazing collection of dejected and heartbreaking compositions, but, deliberately conceived as country music’s answer to Simon & Garfunkel, was over-arranged with organs, flutes and harpsichords, sometimes pushing it into the territory of Bob Dylan's Blonde on Blonde. Nonetheless, the stately For the Sake of the Song (with romantic tex-mex strumming and a melody that evokes Barry McGuire's Eve Of Destruction), the Dylan-esque Tecumseh Valley,, the desolate and waltzing Quicksilver Daydreams of Maria, the funereal, Lee Hazlewood-influenced and quasi-Morricone-ian Waitin’ Around to Die, the honkytonking country-pop lullaby I'll Be There in the Morning, the anemic elegy Sad Cinderella, with baroque harsichord and camp harmonica, would remain staples of his canon and would reapper on later releases in starker and sparer formats. Van Zandt didn't like the arrangements and almost repudiated it (the gospel organ and military drumming of Velvet Voices and the rocking Sixteen Summers Fifteen Falls are certainly unbecoming).

Van Zandt's lyrics found the appropriate musical setting on Our Mother the Mountain (Poppy, 1969), which remains his masterpiece. Be Here to Love Me (with a jazzy flute) and Kathleen (which sounds like Nick Drake backed by an orchestra) are the unlikely songs that lead a parade of desolate vignettes that recast universal themes as private stories. His voice often recalls country-pop star Glen Campbell, and the accompaniments are often limited to guitar and harmonica, but the melodies and the lyrics propel the songs to another dimension. The Donovan-esque She Came and She Touched Me and the gentle Like a Summer Thursday (a sort of calmer cousin of Lee Hazlewood's Some Velvet Morning) hardly prepare for the darkest nadir of the album, Our Mother the Mountain (with funereal flute and martial guitar). A flute that seems to rise from the canyon of an "Indian" reservation introduces the orchestral Second Lover’s Song, whose melody sounds like a neoclassical aria. The ferocious, jazzy and almost dissonant Snake Mountain Blues (the standout) even evokes Tim Buckley. The yodeling tradition of country music is reborn in My Proud Mountains and closer Why She’s Acting This Way is the ultimate losing-themed country song.

A few months later Van Zandt released a sort of compilation with additional new material, Townes Van Zandt (Poppy, 1969). The album begins with a spartan and slower version of For the Sake of the Song and includes new and more plaintive versions of Waiting Around To Die, I'll Be There in the Morning, and Quicksilver Daydreams of Maria (which becomes an oddly crooned pop song). The album is played and sung in a way that increases the similarities with Nick Drake (whose debut had been released in July, two months earlier). The problem is that the new material sounds like leftovers, with the exception of Lungs, another "violent" and syncopated blues number (and the standout), and of the vibrant, Dylan-esque Fare Thee Well Miss Carousel.

The following albums, Delta Momma Blues (Poppy, 1971) Note: all discographies on the web credit High as being released in 1972 but the Poppy-released LP clearly states 1971 <--> and the piano-driven High Low and In Between (Poppy, 1971 - Rhino, 1972), were also inferior, although each boasted one of his sad masterpieces, respectively Tower Song and To Live's to Fly (plus close seconds like Rake and Nothing on the former). He was clearly moving towards a more lively sound (Delta Momma Blues and Turnstyled Junkpiled on the former album, You are not needed now and the rocking gospel-ish Too Hands on the latter).

The Late Great Townes Van Zandt (Poppy, 1972) is possibly his most eclectic collection and contains two of his classics, Pancho And Lefty (perhaps influenced by Arlo Guthrie) and the catchy and foot-tapping If I Needed You, besides elegant country lullabys like If I Needed You and No Lonesome Tune, but overall is uneven (four covers, one old song). The strangest songs are the orchestral and stately mystical vision of Silver Ships of Andilar (perhaps the real standout) and the piano elegy Snow Don't Fall. It became his most famous album.

The double album Live At Old Quarter (Tomato, 1977) was the first of many live albums that constitute most of his discography.

It took six years before Van Zandt released another collection of new material, Flyin' Shoes (Rhino, 1978), which was basically a "best of" the last six years. It includes the gentle No Place To Fall and Rex's Blues, the more lively Loretta, the singalong Dollar Bill Blues

Nine more elapsed between this one and At My Window (Sugar Hill, 1987), which contains Snowin' On Raton, and seven more before No Deeper Blue (Sugar Hill, 1994) saw the light, a confused hodgepodge of styles (with Niles River Blues).

Townes Van Zandt died in january 1997 at 52.

(Translation by/ Tradotto da Pierfrancesco Zanata)

Townes Van Zandt fu un poeta di ballate intime, gentili, tormentate ed emozionali. La sua arte prevelentemente acustica prendeva elementi di country, blues e tex-mex, avviando la grande scuola di cantautori texani degli anni '70.

Il suo primo album, For the Sake of the Song (Poppy, 1968), era una splendida collezione di canzoni tristi e addolorate, ma, volontariamente concepito come la risposta della musica country a Simon & Garfunkel, fu eccessivamente arrangiato con organi, flauti e clavicembali, talvolta sconfinando nel territorio di Blonde on Blonde di Bob Dylan. Tuttavia, la maestosa For the Sake of the Song (con una romantica strimpellata tex-mex e una melodia che ricorda Eve Of Destruction di Barry McGuire), la dylaniana Tecumseh Valley, il valzer desolato di Quicksilver Daydreams of Maria, la funurea, quasi morriconiana Waitin’ Around to Die, influenzata da Lee Hazlewood, la ninna nanna honky-tonk del country pop I'll Be There in the Morning, l'anemica elegia di Sad Cinderella, con clavicembalo barocco e armonica, rimarranno punti fermi del suo canone e riappariranno in pubblicazioni successive in un format più scarno e spartano. A Van Zandt non piacquero gli arrangiamenti e arrivò quasi a rinnegarlo (l'organo gospel e il tamburo militare in Velvet Voices e il pezzo rock Sixteen Summers Fifteen Falls sono sicuramente inopportune).

La lirica di Van Zandt trovò uno sfondo musicale più appropriato in Our Mother the Mountain (Poppy, 1969), che rimane il suo capolavoro. Be Here to Love Me (accompagnata da un flauto brioso) e Kathleen (che suona come Nick Drake con un accompagnamento orchestrale) sono le improbabili canzoni che guidano una parata di vignette desolate che reinterpretano temi universali come storie private. La sua voce spesso richiama quella della star country-pop Glen Campbell, e gli accompagnamenti spesso si limitano a chitarra e armonica, ma le melodie e la lirica proiettano i brani in un'altra dimensione. La donovaniana She Came and She Touched Me e la tenera Like a Summer Thursday (una sorta di cugina più tranquilla di Some Velvet Morning di Lee Hazlewood) preparano a malapena per la parte più buia dell'album, Our Mother the Mountain (accompagnata da flauto funereo e chitarra marziale). Un flauto che sembra salire dal canyon di una riserva indiana, introduce l'orchestrale Second Lover’s Song, la cui melodia sembra un'aria neoclassica. La feroce, sgargiante e quasi dissonante Snake Mountain Blues (il pezzo migliore) evoca persino Tim Buckley. La tradizione jodel della musica country si ripresenta in My Proud Mountains e l'ultima traccia Why She’s Acting This Way rappresenta la quintessenza della canzone country dedicata ai perdenti.

Pochi mesi dopo Van Zandt pubblicò una sorta di compilation con l'aggiunta di materiale nuovo, Townes Van Zandt (Poppy, 1969). L'album inizia con una versione più lenta e spartana di For The Sake of the Song e include una nuova e più lamentosa versione di Waiting Around To DieI'll Be There in the Morning, e Quicksilver Daydreams of Maria (che stranamente nel tempo fu reinterpretata da diversi crooner). L'album è suonato e cantato in un modo che aumenta le similirità con Nick Drake (il cui primo album era stato pubblicato due mesi prima). Il problema è che i nuovi brani sembrano scarti, con l'eccezione di Lungs, un altro pezzo blues "violento" e sincopato (il migliore dell'album), e della vibrante, dylaniana Fare Thee Well Miss Carousel.

Anche gli album seguenti, Delta Momma Blues (Poppy, 1971) e High Low and In Between (Poppy, 1971 - Rhino, 1972), più orientato al piano, erano inferiori, anche se entrambi contengono uno dei suoi tristi capolavori, rispettivamente Tower Song e To Live's to Fly (Rake nel primo e Nothing nel secondo, sono validi concorrenti). Van Zandt si stava chiaramente muovendo verso un sound più allegro (Delta Momma Blues e Turnstyled Junkpiled nel primo album, You Are Not Needed Now e il rock gospel di Too Hands nel secondo).

The Late Great Townes Van Zandt (Poppy, 1972) è forse la sua collezione più eclettica e contiene due dei suoi classici, Pancho And Lefty (forse influenzato da Arlo Guthrie) e l'orecchiabile If I Needed You, oltre ad eleganti ninna nanne country come If I Needed You e No Lonesome Tune, ma nel complesso è incostante (quattro cover, un brano tradizionale). Le canzoni più strane sono la mistica e orchestrale Silver Ships of Andilar (forse il vero capolavoro) e l'elegia di piano di Snow Don't Fall. Diventò il suo album più famoso.

L'album doppio Live At Old Quarter (Tomato, 1977) fu il primo di diversi album live che costituiscono gran parte della sua discografia.

Passarono sei anni prima che Van Zandt pubblicasse un'altra raccolta di materiale originale, Flyin' Shoes (Rhino, 1978), che era praticamente una collezione del meglio degli ultimi sei anni. Include la gentile No Place To Fall e Rex's Blues, la più vivace Loretta, il singalong Dollar Bill Blues.

Altri nove anni passarono tra questo e At My Window (Sugar Hill, 1987), che contiene Snowin' On Raton, e altri sette prima che No Deeper Blue (Sugar Hill, 1994), un confuso miscuglio di stili (tra cui Niles River Blues), vide la luce.

Townes Van Zandt morì nel gennaio 1997 a 52 anni.

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