February 16, 2013


A Star-Crossed Cult Figure, Unadorned (MARC MYERS, 1/31/13, WSJ)

Today, Mr. Van Zandt's cult status stems partly from his terse poetic purity and luckless-troubadour personal story. Son of a wealthy Texas oil-company attorney, he was a binge drinker who suffered from bouts of depression. Mr. Van Zandt recorded five albums between 1968 and 1972 that never managed to earn him widespread recognition. What he wound up with, though, was plenty of baggage. By '72, he was divorced, with a child he rarely saw; he had a heroin habit; and his girlfriend had just been murdered after being abducted while hitchhiking back to his Los Angeles apartment on an errand for him.

Haunted by her death, Mr. Van Zandt returned to Texas and continued to compose, recording sporadically in the 1980s and '90s. He also performed frequently, exposing a new generation of artists to his soul-wrenching roots approach. During this period, his personal problems only intensified--continued addictions along with bipolar disorder.

The material released on the new CD set was first discovered in 1996, as part of Mr. Van Zandt's original 1971-72 session tapes. But the tracks could not be released until litigation over rights was settled. "Many of the demos and alternate tracks I heard when I first pulled the tapes were beautiful, stripped-down versions of the originals, which tended to bury the essence of his songs with overdubbed strings, choirs and horns," said Cheryl Pawelski, Omnivore's founder and the set's producer.

The set's highlights include penetrating alternate takes of his "Mr. Mudd & Mr. Gold," "To Live Is to Fly" and a 1972 mix of "Pancho & Lefty"--Mr. Van Zandt's best-known saga song. 

Posted by at February 16, 2013 8:00 AM

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