Saturday, March 09, 2019

Happy Birthday Townes- It Ain’t The Singer It’s the Song-Townes Van Zandt’s A Far Cry From Dead (1999)-A CD Review

Happy Birthday Townes-  It Ain’t The Singer It’s the Song-Townes Van Zandt’s A Far Cry From Dead (1999)-A CD Review

CD Review

By Zack James

A Far Cry From Dead, Townes Van Zandt, Arista Records, 1999

Recently in reviewing a bluesy CD by outlaw cowboy singer Willie Nelson (at least that designation was the basis for my introduction to him back in the early 1980s) I mentioned that I was reminded by my old high school friend, Seth Garth, that back in those late 1970s and early 1980s I was drawn to such outlaw cowboy music that had broken sharply with the traditional stuff out of Nashville that I could not abide., always associated with the Grand Ole Opry and stuff like that, redneck music.     

I also noted that just then, just that late 1970s, early 1980s, rock and roll was taking one of its various detours, a detour like in the late 1950s when the soul went out of rock for a while before the storm of the British invasion and “acid” rock saved it which I could not follow, folk music, the social protest kind anyway that had attracted me in my youth was fading fast even among aficionados as more mundane concerns filled that niche, and the blues was losing its star mostly black performers by the day and the younger crowd, mostly black, was leaving the field to white aficionados like Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughn and heading to what would become hip-hop tradition so I was up for listening to something different. Something that might catch my ear for roots-based music, the music of the “big tent” American songbook beyond Tin Pan Alley.

What Seth hadn’t remembered was the genesis of that outlaw cowboy moment. My finding of an old used record by artist under review Townes Van Zandt at Cheapo’s Records in Cambridge (still there) of all places to find such music. And of course once I get on to a sound I like I tend to look for everything I can find by the artist (film-maker or writer too). Done. But more than in that outlaw moment I actually saw Townes in person at, well, several places over a couple of years, but all of them in the heart of “outlaw country” music, ah, Harvard Square. So in those days I was not alone in looking for a new sound since all the venues were sold out.         

What drew me Townes then, and drew me to this CD recently although it had been put out in 1999 a few years after his untimely death in 1996 was he command of lyrics that “spoke” to me, spoke some kind of truth of things that were bothering me just then like lost loves, not understanding why those loves were lost, and about just trying to get through the day. Yeah, that gravelly voice on that first record kind of fit my mood then, and it still sounds good although unlike that first live in Houston album this one is much more a produced product of the studio. Still the searing burning messages and lyrics are there for to help you get through those tough days that creep up and pile up on you. Listen up. 

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