John Van Horn "Out Back Music" (Mercury, 1972)
(Produced by Jay Leer)
This is one of those only-in-the-Seventies style albums... Van Horn was apparently a longtime cohort of Link Wray's, an on-and-off member of his band, starting as far back as 1963, and also played lead guitar in the spinoff group, The Pack, a band that was basically the Wraymen with a minor facelift... Here, he was in sort of a latter-day, oddball jugband mode, with a hint of boogie-band rock, but a definite hippiebilly twang in there as well... A very rough, unpolished singer, he nonetheless landed a contract with a major label, and seems to have been the musical conduit for the stream-of-consciousness lyrics of one Kevin Fitzmorris (who I have no info about at all...) But even with the connection to Wray, it's hard to know just why this record was actually made. It's not quite weird enough to be an oddball super-classic, but it's goofy and unique enough that I'm hanging onto it for a while. Apparently Van Horn has continued playing rockabilly for years, releasing solo work at least as late as 1999... I imagine that this hippiedelic disc was a bit off the beaten track for him.
I have to confess, I've actually never been a big Townes Van Zandt fan... I completely see the appeal, and I understand why for so many years he was such a beloved figure in the alt.country scene. But the late country poet's work always struck me, personally, as a bit belabored and hard to connect with on an emotional level. Part of that has to do with Van Zandt's limited vocal range (although in one point of view, that was part of his charm -- he was like an alt.country precursor of the punk rock ethos that you didn't have to be a super-duper musician to express yourself or make your own records. The other thing about Townes, though, is the overly-meticulous nature of his songwriting. Clearly he came out of the '60s folk tradition, and in that context, his artwork was maverick and innovative. But compared to other country artists, he seems a little stuffy and classically derived, owing as much to English Lit classes as is does to the legacy of Woody Guthrie or Hank Williams. I find myself constantly aware of his songcraft, and not so aware of the songs themselves. Still, this new collection of his best work on the always-worth Tomato label, is one of the best introductions to his work you're likely to find, sampling songs from his early career in the late '60s and early '70s. These are all much-beloved fan favorites, and while I have to struggle to enjoy his work, I would definitely recommend this album for anyone looking for an introduction to this late Texas legend's work.
Portrait of a young, innovative folkie on the make: here's Townes Van Zandt in 1969, appearing with all his wry, understated charm at a gig in New York City's prestigious Carnegie Hall. I'll say this for Townes: the boy sure was cool as a cucumber; you'd never know he was playing the show of his life, what with his deadpan, laconic stage presence and unhurried delivery. This is a nice glimpse at Van Zandt in his early prime, a fella taking the Woody Guthrie tradition apart and rebuilding it from the ground up, adding his own unique, Gothic intensity to the style. Recommended!
I've never been a huge Townes Van Zandt fan, but this set of long-lost Nashville demos, recorded in 1966 when Townes was just making a name for himself on the budding Texas nightclub/folk scene, show a vibrant, edgy side to his work, which seems to have been largely buried in the more controlled, mannered, mainly acoustic albums that would follow. Here we're treated to rough early versions of several Van Zandt standards, some even in rough, electrified boogie-blues form -- a far cry from his later folkie orientation! Devoted fans will go gaga over this archival set; the skeptical and uninitiated alike may also find a lot to get excited about here as well.
Jerry Jeff Walker - see artist discography
(Produced by Tom Dowd & Tony Joe White)
Another fine, mellow, swampy set from Tony Joe... Even when he's crooning countrypolitan (sort of), he sounds so darn cool, what with that voice of his! This was his seventh album, and although it doesn't have any standout tracks along the lines of "Poke Salad Annie," it's a very solid offering. A bit on the slow side, but well-crafted and cool.
Hick Music Index