Album Artwork / Album Reviews / Alt-Country / Americana / Folk / Stream

ALBUM REVIEW: Townes Van Zandt – Sky Blue

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TOWNES VAN ZANDT
SKY BLUE
Fat Possum Records/Inertia

Early in 1973, Townes Van Zandt visited his journalist and musician friend Bill Hedgepeth in Atlanta, Georgia, as he often would through his life, and recorded these stripped down acoustic songs in Hedgepeth’s home studio. Some are instantly recognisable TVZ classics while two are unreleased tracks, others are covers plus some wonderful new takes on lesser known album tracks.

One might expect a lo-fi set of songs given the unofficial nature of the recordings but the quality is surprisingly good, still sounding warm and intimate. Of the better known tracks, ‘Pancho & Lefty’ is given a softer, more lilting treatment, a low-key version of the song that Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard would famously cover in 1983. ‘Snake Song’ twists and slithers along like its namesake, a great example of the way Van Zandt used his flat-picking to incorporate deft melodies into his poetic folk tales.

‘All I Need’ and the title track show there was material worthy of release that stayed in his unrecorded grab-bag of songs. That they’re now seeing the light of day is a real treat, 46 years down the road. On ‘All I Need’ he sings “Tried everything to set me free, but my chains keep playing tricks on me”, a warning sign in light of the grip that his demons had on him. ‘Sky Blue’ dances on a wonderful guitar melody, almost John Fahey-like, and it too addresses the weight of depression and feeling blue.

A strong air of melancholy hangs over these 11 tracks and he was a master at embedding all his songs with the emotion, yet never allowing them to descend into complete and utter despair. Van Zandt was at the tail end of his 20s when he made these recordings yet he already sounded like a much older man, worn by hard living and a heavy heart, but we can be thankful that he managed to channel so much of his life experiences into such compelling music and poetry.

Chris Familton

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