Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Road songs

On the album Road Songs, Townes Van Zandt treats us to a generous package of live covers of songs he wished he´d written himself. "No such luck," the Texas bard proclaims in the liner notes, but that´s ok really. You can´t write ´em all, and there´s no doubt the late great Townes left an impressive oeuvre behind. This collection of songs he loved to play live contains some inspired music, recorded over a number of years in joints all over America, and it´s especially fun to compare his covers with the originals. 

The old traditional The Coo Coo Bird was made for a singer like Townes. Wonderful violin played by Owen Cody too. From the liner notes: "I thought this song came from Scotland. But there are no coo coo´s in Scotland. It comes from South Carolina where there´s plenty. I know a couple." Find Clarence Ashley´s version on Harry Smith´s Anthology Of American Folk Music box. Springsteen´s Racing In The Streets is a bit ramshackle, but lovingly done. Here´s Townes´ deadpan commentary: "This is one of the most beautiful songs I´ve ever heard. I listened to it 30 times in a row at Lomax´s house. We drove 300 miles the next day. I played it and somebody recorded it. That´s why I didn´t know it better. Bruce will understand." The original is on Darkness On The Edge Of Town, but I´ll let you hear an inspired live performance recorded in San Francisco on 15 December ´78 instead. Wabash Cannonball by The Carter Family (from the Carter Family 1927-1934 box set) was one of the first songs Townes ever heard. And indeed, his love for the original shines through here. On Dylan´s Men Gave Names To All The Animals (from his first religious album Slow Train Coming) Townes says: "This song is so true and so much fun to sing, you´re bound to mix up the words a little." Great excuse... Van Zandt often sang songs by Hank Williams in concert. The sadness of You Win Again suits him very well. Hank´s original is available on the definitive 40 Greatest Hits compilation.

A final note: be sure to buy the German version of Road Songs, on Normal records, as that one´s got a couple of extra songs on it.

Townes Van Zandt - The Coo Coo MP3
Clarence Ashley - The Coo Coo Bird - MP3
Townes Van Zandt - Racing In The Streets MP3
Bruce Springsteen - Racing In The Streets (live 15-12-´78 San Francisco) MP3
Townes Van Zandt - Wabash Cannonball MP3
The Carter Family - Wabash Cannonball MP3
Townes Van Zandt - Man Gave Names To All The Animals MP3
Bob Dylan - Man Gave Names To All The Animals MP3
Townes Van Zandt - You Win Again MP3
Hank Williams - You Win Again MP3

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