Townes Van Zandt's new album consolidates the guitarist as a cornerstone of American folk music

The celebrated musician is still at the top of his game.

Townes Van Zandt is a cornerstone of American folk music. The fingerpicking guitarist has been deceased for a decade, however his legacy is as deep as that of  Johnny Cash. This compilation of collected recordings on Sky Blue have been lovingly picked by his family members.

Rather than reaching for the famous songs, this is not the perfunctory selection that it could have been. ‘Rex’s Blues’, ‘The Hills Of Roane County’ and other tunes are edgy, but exhibit the pulse of blood in their emotive loneliness. The latter track, for example, traverses themes of love, marriage, murder and the chain gang in a matter of mere minutes. 

Van Zandt’s voice is mournful and plaintive, with songs to match. His writing style seems to borrow cues from Phil Ochs, with the lyricism being authoritatively centre stage. Forlorn and bitter, his music also has an air of wistful misery. Even the positive sounding ‘Forever, For Always, For Certain’  is full of contemporary neurosis and paranoia.

With just 11 songs, this is hardly the complete selection, but with the achingly sad laments of ‘Pancho & Lefty’, Van Zandt remains in perfect deadpan control. A glimmer of charisma pervades all his recordings and despite often being harrowing, this is a focused victory for the downbeat.