Townes Van Zandt Absolutely Nothing

[Normal; 2002]

Rating:  3.5/5

Styles: singer/songwriter, contemporary folk, country
Others: Bruce Springsteen, Kris Kristofferson, Merle Haggard

Townes Van Zandt died on January 1, 1997 after leaving behind an extensive list of acoustic singer/songwriter albums.  Thirty years without a major hit, Van Zandt epitomized the lonesome song writing approach to folk and country music.  Although none of his songs were hits, many influential artists took the torch and covered several of them.  Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, and Emmylou Harris are just a few of the artists who have taken Van Zandt’s songs to the public.  More recently, artists such as Tindersticks and Cowboy Junkies have celebrated the likes of Van Zandt’s music.

Absolutely Nothing is an album that stylistically sounds very similar to some of today’s lo-fi recording artists such as Bright Eyes, Mountain Goats, and Jeff Mangum, but stays completely focused on the country and folk genres that the others simply dabble in.  Younger music listeners may not find anything overly intriguing about Van Zandt’s music because it’s primarily geared toward a more mature audience.   

For the most part, Absolutely Nothing is a live collection of songs marketed towards the collector rather than a simple introduction to Van Zandt’s discography.  The sad thing is that it just seems to carry on with the same sentiment throughout the entire album.  Every song is burdened with mournful vocals and similar guitar riffs.  Songs like “Snowin’ on Raton,” “Thunderbird Blues,” and “Marie,” enlighten us with a bit of history and humor in Van Zandt’s dialogue. 

Lovers of Beck’s Sea Change and Springsteen’s Nebraska, however, might find themselves pleasantly akin to Van Zandt’s soft-spoken vocals and raw acoustic instrumentation.  He has the ability to make you feel as though you are the only one hearing him sing.  Additionally, the stark emptiness of the live recording gives it an almost ghostlike quality.  The audience in this setting is completely quiet throughout the performance, which gives the music the salute of respect it deserves.  I guess the beauty of an artist like Townes Van Zandt is that there is “absolutely nothing” offensive about his song writing.  It’s sort of unfortunate that he spent his career flying just under radar, but I’m sure that’s the way he wanted it.  All it takes is one listen to know that Townes Van Zandt was a man who sang for himself.

1. Flying Shoes
2. Kathleen
3. Waiting Around to Die
4. To Live's to Fly
5. A Song For
6. Snowin' on Raton
7. The Hole
8. Two Girls
9. Marie
10. Lungs
11. No Place to Fall
12. Thunderbird Blues [live]
13. German Mustard
14. Where I Lead Me
15. Nothin'
16. Heavenly Houseboat Blues
17. Willie Boy
18. Dirty Old Town
19. Dirty Old Town
20. Jokes: Penguin Joke/Three Shots of Gin

Most Read