In The Beginning

Townes Van Zandt

Compadre Records, 2003

REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy


One of the problems of posthumous releases is the intention of the album's producer. For many, the lure of money is the prime reason to mine whatever unreleased tracks he or she can get from an artist and hopefully, there will be enough material to merit an album. Pay no mind to continuity or uniformity. In many unfortunate cases, this material is usually studio rejects -- material the artist intentionally left out during the recording process.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

There are exceptions. And in the case of In the Beginning, the results are the stuff of rock folklore. John Lomax III, with the help of Jeanene Van Zandt, were able to locate a collection of songs from the late singer/songwriter, Townes Van Zandt -- recorded in 1966. Two years later, Townes would record his debut album.

The collection, a scrappy, sparse 33-minute blast of stripped-down folk/blues and rock, were heavily influenced by Hank Williams, but also drew on contemporaries at that time, especially Bob Dylan. The imagery in "Black Jack Mama" is unmistakably urban: "Big blonde mama, lord, Apartment 213 / Moves like a cobra snake and she treats me like a king / Roll me over easy mama, roll me over slow." However, the barren imagery and poverty of his country/rockabilly influences is fluid in songs like "Colorado Bound": "It's a mighty lonesome feeling, listening to the wind-a-howlin' / Watchin' raindrops come-a-fallin' to the pavement outside your door."

There isn't much variety into Van Zandt's music. In the Beginning was recorded while Van Zandt was absorbing the Texas folk circuit. Part counter-culture '60s psychedelia, part homage to populist heroes of country music past, Van Zandt was able to use his voice and his stunning songwriting skills to fuse these two paths into his own.

Townes would go on to influence both the "roots" rockers of the '80s and the alt-country artists of the '90s and today. The gritty imagery of his subjects and his weary, but strong voice is laid out bare in this release. The only qualm about the album is it ends way too early; it could almost qualify as an EP. However, in this case, the producers didn't have much control in the matter -- they were left with what Townes had recorded. According to the liner notes, Townes Van Zandt pled to Jeanene "Find these songs. I know I recorded them, they're somewhere." Fortunately, for him, and especially for us, these recordings were not lost.

Rating: B+

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© 2004 Sean McCarthy and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Compadre Records, and is used for informational purposes only.