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Townes Van Zandt

In The Beginning – 2003 (Compadré)

Reviewed by Robert Wooldridge

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CDs by Townes Van Zandt

Recorded two years prior to his official debut album, these recently discovered demo tracks reveal a younger Townes Van Zandt already in prime form. These 1966 recordings, produced by the legendary Jack Clement, sound more like finished works than demos.

Though mostly acoustic, several tracks ("Black Widow Blues" and "Hungry Child Blues") feature a full band and recall Dylan's "Bringing It All Back Home" era work. The influence of Hank Williams is also strong, particularly in the tortured love song "Waiting For the Day" and the fatalistic "Black Crow Blues."

Van Zandt mainly sticks to the folk ballad form. Darkness and despair were present early on for Van Zandt, as in "Maryetta's Song" ("She stands all alone in her sorrow/Like a bird that's afraid to sing") and "Big Country Blues" ("I've seen your hungry babies scream, I watched their mamas cry/Seen a worn out prostitute begging for a dime"). Though cast aside for decades, this favorably augments Van Zandt's impressive body of work.