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Townes Van Zandt

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  • Our Mother The Mountain

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    Townes Van Zandt

    our mother the mountain for the sake of the song

    For The Sake Of The Song( 1968 )
    For the Sake of the Song / Tecumseh Valley / Many a Fine Lady / (Quicksilver Daydreams of) Maria / Waiting Around to Die / I'll Be There in the Morning / Sad Cinderella / The Velvet Voices / Talkin' Karate Blues / All Your Young Servants / Sixteen Summers, Fifteen Falls

    Townes Van Zandt came from a wealthy family and was groomed for Texas governership. Instead, he dropped out of college in the 60s after being inspired by singer-songwriters. Of MENSA intelligence he was diagnosed as a manic-depressive in his early twenties. Shamfully given insulin shock therapy, his long term memory was erased. Being diagnosed as a manic depressive is one of the worst things that can happen to a man. One in three people with a serious mental health problem are in debt. Importantly, Townes didn't like the way this album was recorded. It was recorded with what the record label thought were commercial 'folk/rock' arrangements. Townes would later go onto re-record many of the songs on this album, always striving for perfection. He drank a lot of alcohol and after the Seventies, recorded at a very leisurely pace. Bob Dylan and others greatly admired his songs and he became something of a cult-legend. He didn't really like himself at times. The one review on rateyourmusic.com at the time of writing of this debut album is a single sentence, as follows It contains many good songs, but suffers from some bizarre arrangements. which basically sums up how this album has been perceived since day one. Bizarre arrangements? What, bass and drums? There's nothing 'bizarre' about these arrangements except that they interferred with Townes sense of authenticity, always important to him. My take on the album is that it's perfectly and resonably the work of a man recording his debut album who wasn't quite confident enough to tell the producers what he did and didn't want to do.

    I'll go straight to 'The Velvet Voices', a superb song sung with Townes usual long voice. The heavenly angel type backing voices make the song. Ok, the producers and record label took the lyrics somewhat literally, but it really does work. I love this song. We've versions of 'Waiting Around To Die' and 'Tecumseh Valley' that would later be re-recorded. The former is given a western theme, like a man waiting to be shot by the sherriff. The latter is just a stunning composition, but the version on the next album is definitely better. The opening track is the fullest arrangement perhaps, with folk/rock backing but Townes performance is certainly, um, committed. 'Quicksilver Dreams Of Maria' gives Gene Clark and all the best songwriters a run for their money, poetic lyrics and meaning in the voice. It's both happy and sad at the same time. There isn't a bad song here and I can listen to the album all day. Ok, it's not his best album but the songs really are superb.

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    top of page Our Mother The Mountain 9 ( 1969 )
    Be Here to Love Me / Kathleen / She Came and She Touched Me / Like a Summer Thursday / Our Mother the Mountain / Second Lovers Song / St. John the Gambler / Tecumseh / Snake Mountain Blues / My Proud Mountains / Why She's Acting This Way

    The Dylan and Hank Williams influences combine with a set of tastefully arranged songs to produce a near masterpiece. The opening cut for example comes across as Dylan circa 'Blonde On Blonde' only with flute replacing organ. The second track, the stunning melancholy of 'Kathleen', witnesses thick ominous strings combine with Townes voice and guitar to wonderful effect. The third song has more rhymes, alliteration and symbolism than a Dylan based lyrics dictionary, and is rather a lot to take lyrically all in one go. Marvellous poetics though, Townes was a guy that really could write. The delicate and sweet 'Like A Summer Thursday' sees Townes, guitar and harmonica and nothing else other than a gentle sway and a painting of a beautiful lady in words. I could just carry on and review this thing track by track, because every single track deserves mention. I shan't though, suffice to say this is an album of highlights and there's enough variety considering the delivery of the vocals in the music to ensure nobody should ever get bored. We've got three 'mountain' songs, something that comes up a lot in thw writing of 'Townes Van Zandt. Well, mountains are the nearest we can get to heaven on earth. Through history, mountains have represented eternity, firmness and stillness. The folky title track is a cautionary tale So walk these hills lightly, and watch who you're lovin' / By mother the mountain / I swear that it's true / Love not a woman with hair black as midnight / And her dress made of satin / All shimmering blue. What do you notice from those lyrics? Well, they are fine poetry yet also have meaning. Listen to the whole song to make sense of them. These aren't just songs, they have a depth rare in modern songwriting. Well, in modern writing, almost non-existant.

    My home is colarado with her proud mountains tall. A lonesome sounding tale, consisting of Townes low-key vocals and a solitary, bare acoustic guitar. The constancy and stillness of the mountains provide comfort in an uncertain world and that's 'My Proud Mountains'. 'Tecumseh' loses the 'valley' and gains a wonderful sounding harmonica seemingly straight from the depths of mountain echoes. 'St John The Gambler' is another wonderful song with stunning lyrics and that's about all I can write for now. There's little lightness on the surface of the album and many of the songs concern heartbreak and loss. The uptempo 'Snake Mountain Blues' is something of a strange thing in this albums flow, yet the lyrics still concern dying and his woman. Her body, typically for a Townes Van Zandt song, 'is fine'. More mentions of the lord. To gain the complete picture you need to hear the full album. It weaves in and out of the same themes and whilst it won't be to everybodies taste, in an ideal world it should be, just for the sheer artistry on display.

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    Readers Comments

    gazza, garyhess.44@hotmail.com
    How great to see townes being reviewed .These songs sound almost carved out of the ground , the way he sides with the lost and weak , the way he eulogises his land it all has this incredible gravitas - you never ever feel that townes doesnt mean everyword. This guy was the real deal . Townes is no less than the godfather of americana as well as being the musical descendant of hank williams .(how fitting they died on the same day as they share that "high lonesome sound") . Steve Earle states "townes was an even better writer than dylan and id stand on his coffee table in my cowboy boots and tell him so" consider yourself told Mr dylan !

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    this page last updated 5/07/07

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