Pancho and Lefty, Redux: Unheard Townes Van Zandt Coming from Omnivore

By The Second Disc, on 11 Nov 27, 2012

Though his 1972 album was entitled The Late Great Townes Van Zandt, that description wasn’t quite true until New Year’s Day, 1997, when a life of hard living caught up with the 52-year old singer, songwriter, poet and musician.  But Texas native Van Zandt left behind a rich legacy in music consisting of ten studio albums plus singles and live recordings.  The country-blues-folk-rock hero also left behind some unheard material, however, and the musical archaeologists at Omnivore Recordings have unearthed quite the treasure trove!  The 2-CD, 28-track collection Sunshine Boy: The Unheard Studio Sessions and Demos 1971-1972 consists entirely of previously unreleased music from Van Zandt’s classic albums High, Low & In Between and The Late Great Townes Van Zandt.  Both albums were originally released in 1972 on the Poppy label. The first disc of the new set features outtakes and alternate takes/mixes of tracks from the sessions for those LPs; the other presents his solo demos.

Born in Fort Worth, Texas, John Townes Van Zandt first appeared on the Texas club scene in the mid-1960s which offered him to the opportunity to meet like-minded musicians including Doc Watson, Jerry Jeff Walker and Mickey Newbury as well as one of his inspirations, Texan bluesman Lightning Hopkins.  But it was Newbury who encouraged Van Zandt and brokered an introduction to renowned producer Jack Clement.  The man who had written hits for Johnny Cash and discovered Jerry Lee Lewis took the helm of Van Zandt’s earliest albums on which his own songwriting style (influenced by songwriters ranging from Hank Williams, Sr. to Bob Dylan) blossomed.

What will you find on the new compilation?  Hit the jump!

Sunshine Boy includes versions of some of Van Zandt’s most beloved songs, including “To Live Is To Fly” (presented in both alternate take and demo form) and “Pancho and Lefty” (in a mix made concurrent with the familiar version, but without its strings and horns).  “Pancho,” of course, was first recorded on The Late Great Townes Van Zandt but first popularized by Emmylou Harris in 1977 on her album Luxury Liner.  But Emmylou was merely setting the stage.  Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson titled their 1983 duets album after the song, and the title track went all the way to No. 1 on the country charts.

The new collection has been annotated by Colin Escott, music historian and co-author of the Broadway musical Million Dollar Quartet.  In his notes, Escott offers, “alternate versions add an entirely new dimension, like seeing someone you thought you knew so well in a new light. The new songs are simply good to have when it seemed the barrel was empty. And so here are more than two hours of Townes Van Zandt — music unheard since the engineer peeled off a little splicing tape to seal the box 40 years ago.”  Previously unseen photographs round out the package.

1994’s No Deeper Blue was the last studio album released during Townes Van Zandt’s lifetime.   Though posthumous collections of material from both Van Zandt’s final period and earliest days alike have since been released, Sunshine Boy offers the first comprehensive glimpse of the artist’s process in his prime.  February 5, 2013 is the date for the album’s release.  You can order just below at the Omnivore webstore, and we will add an Amazon link as soon as one goes live.

Townes Van Zandt, Sunshine Boy: The Unheard Studio Sessions and Demos 1971-1972 (Omnivore Recordings, 2013)

CD 1: Studio Sessions

  1. T for Texas
  2. Who Do You Love
  3. Sunshine Boy
  4. Where I Lead Me
  5. Blue Ridge Mountains
  6. No Deal
  7. Pancho & Lefty (Alternate 1972 mix without strings and horns)
  8. To Live is to Fly
  9. You Are Not Needed Now
  10. Don’t Take it Too Bad
  11. Sad Cinderella
  12. Mr. Mudd & Mr. Gold
  13. White Freight Liner Blues
  14. Two Hands
  15. Lungs
  16. Dead Flowers

CD 2: Demos

  1. Heavenly Houseboat Blues
  2. Diamond Heel Blues
  3. To Live is to Fly
  4. Tower Song
  5. You Are Not Needed Now
  6. Mr. Mudd & Mr. Gold
  7. Highway Kind
  8. Greensboro Woman
  9. When He Offers His Hand
  10. Dead Flowers
  11. Old Paint
  12. Standin’