Townes Van Zandt

Texas Rain

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The only thing wrong with this album is its title. Texas Rain (with the subtitle "The Texas Hill Country Recordings") doesn't suggest anything about the contents. To be useful, the name of this album would be "Townes Van Zandt and Friends Sing the Songs of Townes Van Zandt," because that describes the contents accurately. In the early '90s, as he frequently told interviewers, Van Zandt was at the Fire Station recording studio in San Marcos, TX, recording what was supposed to be a 60-song box set of his material. That project did not appear before his death at the start of 1997, but these 12 tracks derive from the sessions. On them, Kevin Eggers -- who produced Van Zandt's early Poppy/Tomato albums of the late '60s and early '70s, on which many of these songs got their first recorded performances -- puts together sympathetic, filled-out arrangements and brings in a series of sympathetic duet partners for Van Zandt. These include Emmylou Harris, who scored a hit with Van Zandt's "If I Needed You" and joins him on it here, and Willie Nelson, who, with Merle Haggard, hit with Van Zandt's "Pancho and Lefty" and here performs "No Lonesome Tune" and "Marie." ("Pancho and Lefty" itself gets a Tex-Mex treatment courtesy of three-quarters of the Texas Tornados -- Freddy Fender, Doug Sahm, and Augie Meyers -- along with Rubin Ramos and the Texas Revolution.) But Van Zandt himself is never overwhelmed by the assistance. He is in good voice and dominates the proceedings with his matter-of-fact phrasing, which emphasizes the dry wit and detail of the lyrics. There has been a glut of Van Zandt releases since his death, and this one doesn't present any new material, so it can't be considered essential. But there are some terrific performances of the songwriter's better songs.