Townes Van Zandt's reputation as a songwriter is justifiably legendary, but even his loyal fans acknowledge he was an inconsistent live performer, especially in the last decade of his life, when his demons became more than he could bear. But he was still in control of his abilities in 1985, when he recorded a live set at a nightclub in Johnson City, Tennessee for radio broadcast. Down Home: The Classic 1985 Radio Broadcast gives the Johnson City tapes a belated commercial release after years of circulating as a bootleg; this isn't quite up to the level of Van Zandt's best live set, Live at the Old Quarter, Houston, Texas, but it captures him on a night when his voice was in good shape and he delivered some of his best songs with a passion and insight that could only come from the man who wrote them. The set list includes a handful of Van Zandt's best and best-known songs, including "Pancho and Lefty," "Buckskin Stallion Blues," "To Live Is to Fly," and "If I Needed You," as well as two funny talking blues in which he cracks wise about fraternity life and drinking cheap wine. Van Zandt isn't exactly chatty between songs, but what he says about life, music, and Willie Nelson is often clever and witty, and he and guitarist Mickey White give the songs an unassuming melodic strength, though Donny Silverman's flute and sax interludes sometimes feel intrusive. The closing medley of "Colorado Girl" and "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues" shows Van Zandt also knew how to find the heart in another composer's songs, and if this isn't an essential Townes Van Zandt release, Down Home is a reminder of the enduring strength of his songs, and the gentle force of the man who gave them life.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming