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on February 6, 2013
For an artist who's been anthologized as much as Townes Van Zandt, what's the point of yet another posthumous collection? There's so many out there it's almost impossible to get your bearings in terms of an introduction.

If you're seeking such, I'd direct you to Rearview Mirror but considering most of Townes' finest is represented herein, you could do worse.

But this is not just another "Greatest Hits". As with In The Beginning, these are recently discovered studio & and demo recordings which have laid in the vaults for over 40 years. Rabid fans and archivists, hit the purchase button now.

The chief selling point is the long lost Van Zandt original from where this collection takes its title. To my knowledge, "Sunshine Boy" has never been heard or released in any form. It's a find to say the least. Townes' trademark dark introspective lyrics featuring some surprisingly choice 70's Country Funk backing. Trust me, you've never heard him like this before.

Other rarities include a feverish take on Bo Diddley's, "Who Do You Love" and a deft stab at "Dead Flowers" which takes the Stones' tongue & cheek original to heart. A version which has graced many a soundtrack of late, I might add.

As for the rest, fans have heard a lot of it before, but never quite like this. In most cases they outdo the established album versions. If you felt much of Townes' studio work suffered from over production here's your chance to leave all that behind. Here you can hear the same Late Great take on "Poncho & Lefty" without the horns and all the other noodling. One listen and the definitive studio version is here. I'd say the same for the stark and lonesome demo version of To Live Is To Fly on disc 2. If Greensboro Woman was pleasant enough on High & Low & In Between, the demo here is downright devastating. "Highway Kind" was stark enough before, here it sends a chill

In the end, maybe this isn't essential unless you're a restless fan sifting for something shining in the ashes. Suffice to say there's more than a few gems to dust off here.
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on February 11, 2013
The first reviewer did an amazing job reviewing this set. I just wanted to dog pile onto their review. This is an awesome set. It is even better than a greatest hits package. Let me explain. My favorite Townes Van Zandt album has always been Live at the Old Quarter House. This is due to the fact that it is a great selection of songs, and even better, it is not overly produced. I will listen to any Townes album, and I enjoy every Townes album, but his albums have a tendency to be a little over produced. I know not everyone agrees with me on this, but I really prefer Townes in a raw performance setting without any production. That is why this set is so good. It features some of Townes' best-known songs, from his creative peak, without any production. You can't do better than an amazing songwriting and guitar player just playing his instrument and singing his songs. Plus, I believe that this is the only studio release of Townes' version of The Rolling Stone's song "Dead Flowers". Townes does a better deadpan interpretation of the song than Jagger ever did, and Jagger does it very well. "Pancho and Lefty" without the strings outshines the version your used to because it is that untouched Townes Van Zandt which allows his craftsmanship to shine even brighter than it normally does. Now, before I finish, I should mention that disc two (the demos) is really the raw recordings I have been going on about. Disc one is studio outtakes, and there is production on this disc. I would say it's an average amount of production for a Townes Van Zandt album, but you are getting songs that you haven't heard or are different from the version you know. Disc one is still a very intriguing listen. Essentially, you're getting both halves of this great artist. The bottom line: if you're a Townes fan, you'll want to buy this album. If you feel that Townes can be overproduced, this is the set for you.
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on August 30, 2013
While I’m not sure that these songs can be called “unheard” (somebody must have heard them before they were released such as the recording engineers, the musicians themselves, etc), I’m certainly glad that these studio sessions and demos have come out – disc one is studio sessions, disc two is demos. Townes wrote some of the best country rock songs around, and the studio sessions you hear here are either more spare than their originals (sometimes just guitar and a bit of drum, to lightly compliment Townes’ huge voice), while other songs are noisier than the originals, with greater guitar grooves (”Who Do You Love”, and the hard-to-find B-side “Sunshine Boy”, both benefit from an enthusiastic electric band). The first disc of studio tracks is followed by one of demos, which is simply Townes and his guitar (except for “Dead Flowers”, the Stones classic, which gets a bit of percussion). One totally new Townes composition appears here for the first time, “Diamond Heel Blues”, while he also gives us covers of “T For Texas”, “Dead Flowers” (two versions) and the traditional “Old Paint”.
To compare the studio versions as they appear on Texas Troubadour (which I review here) it an interesting exercise. “Blue Ridge Mountains” is a lot more raucous and has better sound. The demo of “Greensboro Woman” is quite a bit slower than the studio version, while “Lungs” is a lot faster on this version than on the official release (which, ironically, sounds more like a demo) and is peppered up with a full band and some spastic piano. There are two versions of “Mr Gold And Mr Mud” here, both a studio version and a demo. The studio version of is nearly identical to the official release, except the sound is richer, while the demo is stark and simple with none of the shuffle of the studio versions. The studio version of “No Deal” also sounds identical to the released version. The collection has two versions of “To Live Is To Fly”, one on each disc, both of which sound like demos, simple guitar and voice versions (on the studio version, drum kicks in about one third of the way through the song – doesn’t improve the song, though). “Two Hands” appears here without the gospel singers, it sounds pretty good… but I think those gospel singers are quite vital to a song like this, so this is not really a superior version. “Who Do You Love” has some pretty cool and funky (and loud!) guitar soloing at the end, not to mention some wild slide guitar. “Sunshine Boy”, the hard-to-find B-side of “If I Needed You”, is full of storytelling and great harmonies; it sounds just great, and is also spiced up with some wild guitar. “Where I Lead Me” is slower than the original, and has nice harmonica and some big, sloppy horns in it; funny thing about the addition of horns on that song, as one of the best songs on this collection is probably “Pancho and Lefty (alternate 1972 mix without strings and horns)” – yes that’s the full title – and it sounds very interesting without those darn mariachi band horns. While they are very distracting, listening to the song without horns helps to understand why they were added – as beautiful as the song is, it is also just a bit flat. The album has a great version of “You Are Not Needed Now”, even though the magnificent organ of the original is lacking (it also comes in a demo version). “Sad Cinderella” is mainly Townes’ voice and some choppy one-finger piano that sounds just a bit too spare, but is still somehow preferable to the studio original, with its harpsichord vanities. “White Trail Liner” has more of a bluegrass feel to it with some fingerpicked ukelele.

The demos are mainly just Townes’ voice and guitar and are truly beautiful. I love this sort of thing – just like Big Star’s demos are the best thing on their box set, this is really something very stunning (it doesn’t hurt that my wife and son are into mellow guitar music). “You Are Not Needed Here” is really just great, serenely beautiful with some perfect finger picking at the beginning. A warm, wonderful song. Nearly all the songs sound better with the simple treatment. Lovely. “Highway Kind” is also stunning in its perfect melancholy. One after another, they are all astounding, just Townes and his guitar. “Standin’” sounds pretty darn cool, and has a very different feel stripped of the shuffle of the official release version, Townes is also backed by some very nice backing vocals. This last disc is the real treasure of all Townes Van Zandt recordings. “When He Offers His Hand” is really amazing, stripped of the silly backing vocals, now just Townes and a studio buddy.

There are five songs on the collection that have never been released by Townes Van Zandt as studio recordings. Most interestingly, there are two versions of “Dead Flowers”, the Stones song that he does such a rich rendition of in the soundtrack of The Big Lebowski. The demo version is a smooth little rendition that has a bit of a drum machine backing Townes up (the only demo that does so). While it isn’t not as rich as the one we hear on The Big Lebowski soundtrack, its still very nice with some beautiful finger picking and Townes’ rich, languid voice. I just wish they could have done something about that drum machine!! The studio version has drum and piano to compliment Townes’ voice, it sounds a bit like something you’d hear in the lobby of a Best Western. Nuff said.

Besides the two versions of “Dead Flowers”, there’s “T For Texas”, a cool version of the classic number that has a lot of yodeling (rare for Townes) and moves at a languid pace. The traditional “Old Paint” is a simple wailin’ country blues song that strums and strums. Very nice indeed. “Untitled (demo)” is a nice, jazzy, upbeat unlisted little number that includes a sweet bit of finger picking that goes on for about one minute. Very nice indeed. “Diamond Heel Blues” is the only one of these songs to be written by Townes himself (besides “Untitled”, we’d assume), and it’s a great find! The song is full of some really great finger picking, and some lovely blues (it’s also the longest song on the set – it just goes on and on…).

Finally, the set comes with a 16-page booklet. The 7-page essay by Colin Escott doesn’t really have enough space to tell you anything too much new about Townes, but it does bring up a few nuggets, like the name of his murdered girlfriend, Leslie Jo Richards, some background of a young Townes Van Zandt trying to get his music career moving in Nashville (with Mickey Newbury as his co-manager, the writer of “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)”) and the prettifying producer of Johnny Cash and Roy Obison and Jerry Lee Lewis, Jack Clements). The essay talks a lot about his motivations. “Realizing he could never follow in his father’s footsteps, he quit school and hit the road.” “By 1972, Townes had five LPs on the streets, a son he hardly saw, an ex-wife, a murdered girlfriend, and a heroin habit. ‘Living was painful to Townes,’ his ex-wife, Fran, told Robert Earl Hardy. ‘[He] didn’t know how to live in this world.’” There are six very nice pictures from the era of Townes alone, standing or seated, with either a musical instrument or a cigarette or a drink in his hands.
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on February 13, 2013
Not a single song here is a filler. The quality of the sound is very good even the demos. The performances are professional, nothing to do with some live recordings recorded later in Towne's life. You get "Sunshine boy" and "Diamond heel blues" as new songs and that is of course good. But in my opinion is even better to listen to the old, trusty workhorses been recreated under a different light. "White freight liner", "Standin'", "When he offers his hand", "Tower song" and almost all of them get your attention like they were new songs. Not bad for recordings that we know so well. The fans will get it immediately but even people new to TVZ will appreciate this double treat. It's all good.
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on August 28, 2013
I just received my copy of this today, maybe four tracks in, and it's clear
this is a must-own release for any fan, serious or casual, of Townes. And in my case,
I am a serious fan and have become even more so the past 10 years of my life, especially
with all the recordings now available, box sets, and the film on Townes and the web site,
and all the riches now available for those only catching up with him nowadays. So far this
is sounding at least as essential, or nearly so, as something like the seminal Live at the Old
Quarter. And it's true, this is more stripped-down, "bare" and raw Townes than most of his
studio work and certainly more so than his standard studio LPs, the production adornments
of which are often as distracting, hokey, and irritating as those on some of Nick Drake's
studio LPs, sad to say. Anyway, nothing much more to say about Sunshine Boy except it's more
than worth the money and any Townes fan will surely want to own this and play it frequently.
The liner notes and insert photos look quality, and will have a gander at the insert booklet
and liner notes by Colin Escott a bit later on tonight or this week as time allots. I'm sure
if this hits Spotify, which I'm also a subscriber to, this will get a lot of traffic and deservedly
so. Looks like a sterling issue for Omnivore/Capitol-EMI, and it's also nice to note Cheryl
Pawelski's fine work on getting this release produced for release: she also was instrumental
on the recent Big Star box set Keep An Eye On The Sky, which is also one of the best releases
in pop and rock music of the past 20 years, and so is this. Can't recommend this any more
highly. If you're a Townes fan, you will need this and treasure it.
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on June 13, 2013
Got to say the only way to listen to Townes is stripped down to just a guitar...I did like his live act when it was him and a fiddler player but anything more is overkill on the recordings...some say he was the modern day Hank Williams...not quite as appealing on a grandiose stage...I do think he was a great artist and never enough can be said about the high quality of his songs...songs that were covered by so many and will continue to be covered by so many...his albums are to be bought and listened to as are his live albums...and of course this one is very much needed to be listened to and if your a fan of Townes you'll be glad you have it for sure...i don't know how to place or describe Townes in the modern world...why wasn't he more famous than what he was...maybe he was famous on a songwriter's level just not in a pop sense...just a terrific artist that will continue to grow even though he's not been among the living in over 15 years...died in 1997 about the same day Hank Williams died I saw him perform 3-5 days before his demise...a very low key concert but somehow you hung on to every word...maybe that's it in a nutshell his words were truly amazing or the way he said it because for such a great songwriter he did do enough covers including the shrimp song from an elvis presley soundtrack (not on the CD however).
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on April 22, 2014
If you are like me then maybe you split Townes recordings in two i.e. early and late, this is a gem from the early. Studio versions stripped back. I love simply Townes and his guitar on 90% of his recordings, that is a testament to his greatness.It's all a bit silly to review a Townes release when the only one's in question are the many live albums. I am a true fan and this is killer MUST HAVE!
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on July 8, 2013
This is essential listening for the casual fan as well as the hardcore fan. Early and clean cuts of many songs that became staples in the years to come. The solo tracks shine brightest, really conveying a sense of world-weariness that would seem appropriate for a much older singer/songwriter. Follow this up with any of Townes' solo concerts from the early to mid-1990's , which make excellent bookends to his studio releases from in between.
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on May 28, 2013
Awesome album! It was really refreshing to hear Townes sing with such abandon. You need to buy this one if you like Townes Van Zandt.
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on March 12, 2013
Townes was a friend, or at least a friendly acquaintance. Lots of memories of campfires and living rooms were brought back in this album. (Actually these songs were well established in his act by the time I knew him-- think 10 years-- down the road.
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