Townes Van Zandt

A Private Concert

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First things first: Townes Van Zandt was a singular artist. In his field, other than Hank Williams and Merle Haggard, no one can touch him. His studio recordings and Live at the Old Quarter, Houston, Texas makes that abundantly clear. Even Rear View Mirror, which was spookily released on CD to the masses on the day of his death, proves that point. But this slew of posthumous live recordings by Van Zandt's manager, Harold F. Eggers, Jr. is another story. They feel like the robbing of a grave. Private Concert, recorded in a Holiday Inn hotel room in 1988 at 3:00 in the morning, feels like a homemade Tascam cassette mastered for CD. At that time, Van Zandt still had his guitar playing powers -- he was formidable at his best. He was in fine voice, and the song selection is solid: he opens with "Pancho and Lefty" and "Buckskin Stallion Blues." There's a great version of "Rake," here, and a good "White Freightliner Blues," as well as the set closer "I'll Be Here in the Morning." And the stories are as they always were -- wondrous vignettes. But there is something missing: the lack of dynamic in the recording itself, and the lack of motivation by Van Zandt to really get his music through to anyone. It's perhaps too informal. Van Zandt, when hungry and deeply into his tunes, could mystify. But this feels flat, monotone, staid. Van Zandt fans will need this, they always do; but they've heard better on bootlegs -- which is what this set sounds like except for the two bonus tracks -- "Brand New Companion," and "The Hole" -- taken from somewhere else.

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