When one thinks about the music of the late, great Townes Van Zandt, it is easy to presume it is primarily in the context of the stark, downer nature of his songs, a pivotal turning point in the direction of American country music that has inspired everyone from Lyle Lovett and Steve Earle to such renowned heavy metal acts as Neurosis and Scott "Wino" Weinrich.
It is a style the Texas icon had woven from his twin loves for both the Depression era hillbilly country of Dock Boggs and the Carter Family and the deep blues of such early masters as Bukka White and Mississippi John Hurt to fashion a brand of coffeehouse country folk that made him exponentially stand out amongst his peer group, an impressive cast of company that included such giants of his generation as Mickey Newbury, Gram Parsons and Kris Kristofferson.
But if you are a TVZ novice and itching to hear him with a little heat under his hide, look no further than Van Zandt's pair of 1972 aces "High, Low & In Between" and "The Late, Great Townes Van Zandt, where he incorporated elements of pop, gospel, honky tonk and Band-esque boogie into the molasses of his slow-turning style. Sunshine Boy is a new two-disc collection that delves even further into this most fertile period, excavating the artist's vault for a trove of demos and outtakes never before heard by public ears. Here, songs like To Live is to Fly, Heavenly Houseboat Blues and the famous Pancho and Lefty are stripped of all the strings, horns and fanfare of their commercial counterparts to reveal the raw essence of these classic tunes.
And in addition to the material from the High, Low and Late, Great era, the Sunshine Boy sessions also yielded alternative spins of songs from such past masterworks as his 1970 eponymous debut (Don't Take it Too Bad, Lungs), 1971's "Delta Momma Blues" (Where I Lead Me, Tower Song) and 1978's "Flyin' Shoes" (a great cover of Elias McDaniel's Who Do You Love?), not to mention a pair of previously unreleased studio versions of his covers of Jimmie Rodgers' T for Texas and the Rolling Stones' Dead Flowers, two songs that perhaps best personify the duality of his art.
Over a decade and a half following his untimely death, it is astounding to see the inward beauty of Townes Van Zandt's songcraft still provide fresh chunks of greatness well into this new millennium.