Townes Van Zandt: Sky Blue
The legend of Townes Van Zandt has only expanded in his absence—the beloved Texas-born singersongwriter departed this world in 1997, at age 52—and even the smallest new piece to the puzzle that was his life and work is highly valued. But Sky Blue isn’t small at all—recorded in 1973, these 11 previously unreleased recordings include stripped-down versions and virtual blueprints of songs that, in some instances, would come to define Van Zandt. The others, including a few well-chosen covers, now add significantly to what was already there. Recorded with the help of Bill Hedgepeth, a late musician and journalist, Van Zandt presents early working renditions of songs like “Rex’s Blues” and “Snake Song” that would turn up on later TVZ albums and, in the case of “Pancho & Lefty”—which the composer released the previous year on his album The Late Great Townes Van Zandt —would also populate albums by numerous others. Most of the familiar tracks are, if not quite fully honed, close enough to be easily recognizable; but still, it’s instructive to get a taste of Van Zandt’s songwriting process. A couple of tunes, “All I Need” and the title track, are new to the Van Zandt discography, and while neither has the ring of some of his classics, they’re still more than worthy of his name. And the covers, including the murder ballad “The Hills of Roane County” and, most impressively, Tom Paxton’s folk standard “The Last Thing on My Mind,” are molded into Townes Van Zandt tunes—natural fits out of the box.