Townes Van Zandt – Down Home and Abroad

Album Review | Floating World | Review by Allan Wilkinson | Stars: 3/5

These two live shows, recorded almost a decade apart, feature a selection of Townes Van Zandt’s finest compositions, with just four repeated songs over the two shows. The two-disc release captures the enigmatic songwriter on fine form in both 1985 and 1993, the latter just three and a half years before his untimely death in January 1997. The earlier show, recorded at the Down Home in Johnson City, Tennessee reveals a troubadour wafting through town like tumbleweed, joined by flat-pick guitarist Mickey White and flautist Donny Silverman, engaging with a lively Tennessee audience, especially during the talking blues songs, “Fraternity Blues” and “Talking Thunderbird Blues”. The second show was recorded in Helsinki, Finland, Townes’ first visit to the country, and reveals a singer with a more weather-worn vocal delivery, yet conversely a much harder and punchier guitar approach. At times, the Texan songwriter drifts off into his own world between songs, tales of being chained to a tree and going to the hospital with war paint on, yet remains as beguiling as ever as a performer. Despite struggling through some of the songs, Townes maintains the melancholy and overbearing sadness in such songs as “Kathleen”, whilst lifting the audience spirits with “If I Needed You” and “Tecumseh Valley”. The recording is beset with a few minor squeaks and buzzes from the PA, but nothing as poor as the recently released double LP set from the American Music Hall in San Francisco from 1991 (with Guy Clark). It’s interesting to compare and contrast these two performances, both of which stand up as fine examples of a remarkable and much missed songsmith at play.