After a number of short-lived compilations, it seems that The Best of Townes Van Zandt is finally going to be the album that definitively represents Van Zandt's classic Tomato recordings. That's good and bad, actually, for a number of reasons. On the plus side, it is generally agreed that Van Zandt's music is best heard in an intimate acoustic setting, and The Best of Townes Van Zandt leans heavily toward that supposition, featuring "Tecumseh Valley" and "White Freightliner Blues" from the concert album Live at the Old Quarter and the second recorded version of "For the Sake of the Song" that Van Zandt preferred to the 1968 original. There's nothing from his debut record, however, and even if Van Zandt may have wanted it that way, some listeners may miss the youthful vigor of those first versions. And it's certainly true that Tomato didn't pick the best versions of all these songs; "Waiting Around to Die," for example, the Calvin Russell duet version from Texas Rain, is far inferior to almost every other version Van Zandt recorded. (It's one of two duets, the second with Willie Nelson, that seem to have been included merely for the sake of seeming stylish rather than presenting a true best-of.) In general, though, this collection is pretty good, featuring most of the songwriter's classics plus latter-day favorites such as "Dead Flowers" and interesting album tracks like "Who Do You Love" and "Tower Song." People are going to cry out over some of this stuff, asking where's this and that, but such omissions ensure that people will continue to buy Van Zandt's proper records, and that is essential.
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