Reviews of new releases from Townes Van Zandt, The Flatlanders, Lack and The Green Pajamas


Townes Van Zandt
Live at The Old Quarter, Houston, Texas
A Gentle Evening With Townes Van Zandt

Few individuals armed with only an acoustic guitar and an everyman's voice are capable of captivating a crammed room on a sweltering summer evening. That's exactly what Townes Van Zandt did at The Old Quarter in downtown Houston on a hot, humid July night in '73, some 24 years before his death at 52 on New Year's Day 1997. This double-disc document of Van Zandt's stirring performance captures the troubadour at the height of his storytelling prowess. His voice is as craggy as ever, but strong and emotive. His guitar skills are sharp enough to make good on both a Lightnin' Hopkins and a Bo Diddley cover; and of the 22 originals Van Zandt offers, nearly all of his finest compositions — such as Pancho & Lefty, If I Needed You and For the Sake of the Song — are included.

This intimate CD captures one man, one guitar, a couple jokes and 26 songs ranging from heart-wrenching ballads involving desperate women of the night to a witty send up of the college fraternity system.

Van Zandt sounds confident and relaxed throughout, a performer completely in tune with his audience, making Live at The Old Quarter the best representation of a gifted singer/songwriter who fares better in a live context than in the confines of a studio.

A Gentle Evening With Townes Van Zandt is a 10-track collection recorded at Carnegie Hall in 1969 — a time when many of Van Zandt's strongest compositions were still floating around in the great song depository in the sky. Three of the tunes on this disc are duplicated on Old Quarter and the remaining seven are strong, but non-essential, such as Van Zandt's reading of the Johnny Cash hit Ballad of Ira Hayes. (Tomato)—Wade Tatangelo

Live at The Old Quarter, Houston, Texas

A Gentle Evening With Townes Van Zandt

Blues Moderne: Danois Explosives

Danish blitzcore outfit Lack rolled through town a couple of weeks ago for a show at The Kids. And, had I been even a little more on the ball, this belated CD review would have been both punctual and designed to motivate extreme-music enthusiasts to go to the show. Because Blues Moderne is easily the most visceral and unsettling release this side of Dillinger Escape Plan's Calculating Infinity, or perhaps even the final Refused offering. Lack's style careens between the grisly tech-abandon of the former and the methodical songcraft of the latter; it is jagged, nonlinear and violently psychotic, but liberally festooned with riffage hooky enough to draw in the listener on a level beyond gut reaction. The opening Zur Genealogie Dea Modernen Menschen alternately pummels and caresses; it comes taut and sinewy into a slow-build that never seems to end. And Kill Britney, of course, simply rules. Those who only equate catchy with mellifluous vocals will be scared out of their minds, but Lack plies enough groove and gristle to satisfy pedestrian metalcore pundits and hardened grind fans alike. (Stickfigure, www.stickfigurerecords.com)
—Scott Harrell

The Flatlanders
Now Again

When The Flatlanders recorded their 1972 debut (currently available on Rounder as More of a Legend Than a Band), Butch Hancock and Jimmie Dale Gilmore tackled all the songwriting duties, Gilmore took the majority of lead vocals and Joe Ely contributed only guitar. Thirty years later, the three longtime friends, who have each gained cult status with albums cross-pollinated with each other's songs, have a more balanced collaboration. Of the 14 tunes on Now Again, 12 are co-authored by the trio and the singing duties are divided evenly, with each alternating on leads and sharing high harmonies that serve as one of the album's most rewarding aspects. Each lyric they touch is warmed by Gilmore's tortured tenor, Hancock's Dylan-esque whine and Ely's rich, grainy pipes. Also returning from the original Flatlanders is Steve Wesson and his one-of-a-kind musical saw. It joins with a balmy blend of slide, steel, banjo, accordion, drums and Ely's electric guitar to make for a sonic tapestry that fits the trio's dreamy, detailed lyrics. Now Again is a gem of an album that beautifully blends the best of folk, singer/songwriter fare, old-time country and straightforward rock 'n' roll. The Flatlanders will be at Skipper's Smokehouse on July 14. (New West)
—Wade Tatangelo

The Green Pajamas
This is Where We Disappear

In 1983, when Kurt Cobain was just getting so he could roll a halfway decent joint, The Green Pajamas formed in Seattle. The psychedelic pop outfit lay dormant from 1990 to '97 — blame the grunge scene, if you like — but since then have been back and doing their beguiling cult thing at full bore. This is Where We Disappear is a neat-o slice of trippy rock — catchy and dreamy, it wantonly churns up '60s head music. The charmingly low-budget sound slurs together fuzzy guitars, cheesy keyboards and ethereal vocals, which could all be very gimmicky and forgettable if there wasn't a serious batch of strong songs here. Occasionally, the music gets a little arty or precious or both — as in the waltz-time Spinning Away or the overwrought Something's Gone Wrong — but by and large Disappear is a truly groovy experience. (Rubric, www.rubricrecords.com)
—Eric Snider

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