Townes Van Zandt Down Home & Abroad/Doug Sahm Texas Radio & The Big Beat. Floating World Records

These two albums of vintage recordings from late Americana legends, both double disc CD sets with impressive liner notes, certainly serve a purpose as more and more live gigs and radio sessions from the past make it into the public domain. The question is, “Do they deserve to appear and is it worth forking out for them?” Well, in the case of Townes Van Zandt here, the answer is definitely yes. As for the Sahm set, it’s a bit more woolly.


Down Home & Abroad consists of two live shows recorded in 1985 (at The Down Home in Johnson City, Tennessee) and 1993 (in Helsinki). In both shows Townes is in fine fettle, relaxed and chatty as he rambles through his stellar catalogue of songs, most of the classics are here with only four duplications across the discs. On the Tennessee set he is accompanied by guitarist Mickey White and flautist/saxophonist Donny Silverman, the latter’s contributions reminding one of the early Van Zandt studio albums. His talking blues on Talking Thunderbird Blues and Fraternity Blues both raise some hoots from the audience and some of his introductions raise a chuckle but when he delves into a song such as Rake, you know this is a guy who has faced darkness in his soul. The accompanying players give Snake Mountain Blues an additional heft and there’s a neat combination of Colorado Girl and Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues which is just outstanding. By 1993 Townes is much more weathered, his voice more stained but still capable of dredging up deep emotions. Here he’s solo and his guitar is just a bit more ragged but again he has those great songs to back him up. He sounds tentative at first on this first visit to Finland but as the show progresses he relaxes, his chats loosen up and by the end of the show (which, going by his repeated assurances to the crowd that the main act will be on soon, goes on longer than planned) he’s flying, playing audience requests and goofing around as when he kicks off Brother Flower saying, “If I start humming it’s because I’ve forgotten the words.” A raw rendition of Flying Shoes and a halting Don’t you Take It Too Bad (and here you can compare the performance to that of eight years earlier) close the show. With both shows well recorded (aside from some minor tape hiss on the Helsinki show) this release is bound to attract devotees of Townes Van Zandt and for more fair weather listeners is not too shabby a way to hear what all the fuss is about when it comes to the peculiar genius of Townes Van Zandt.


Texas Radio & The Big Beat (aside from the title the discs have no relationship with The Doors) consists of two shows recorded for radio transmission in 1973 and 1974, in Philadelphia and then in Houston. Recorded in the wake of Sahm’s Atlantic album, Doug Sahm and Band, which had the likes of Dylan and Dr. John sitting in, the shows don’t reflect that disc with only two songs, Papa Ain’t Salty and (Is Anybody Going To) San Antone represented. Instead, Sahm and the bands behind him offer some of his older hits such as She’s About A Mover and At The Crossroads along with numerous covers of blues and country standards. It has to be said that both recordings are thin, the band muffled for the most part with instrumental solos either too loud or lost in the mix. Sahm himself is fiery and passionate, having fun but with his vocal track way up high on most of the songs. The Philadelphia recording wins out in terms of its variety and Sahm’s between song chat but on both shows the majority of the songs are blues shuffles with little of the variety that was on show on that Atlantic Records studio album. That said the versions of (Is Anyone Going To) San Antone and Wolverton Mountain, both from the Philly gig, are pretty cool but it’s difficult to recommend this to anyone but die hard collectors.


Doug Sahm and The Sir Douglas Quintet. Hell of A Spell/Nuevo Wave Live/Texas Hero. Floating World Records


The late Doug Sahm has been woefully let down by the record industry in the years following his death. Aside from a  couple of decent compilations there hasn’t been (as far as I know) any attempt at a comprehensive retrospective or even a reasonable reissue programme of his major albums, solo, with The Sir Douglas Quintet or The Texas Tornados. Mind you, he recorded for a number of labels so the legal hurdles might just be too much to bear. In the meantime reissues are often slapdash, albums renamed, information scant, hidden away on back pages on Amazon.

This two disc CD (comprising three albums) is guilty on some counts. There’s little information on the musicians involved although there is an informative essay in the liner notes (written by Alan Robinson who also recounts a very brief encounter with the man).  On the plus side it’s reasonably priced and it does contain one bona fide gem from the Texan Groover.

Hell Of A Spell, originally released in 1980 finds Sahm paying tribute to Texas bluesmen (the album is dedicated to Guitar Slim) and although it wasn’t his swansong it’s perhaps his last major release before he formed the Texas Tornados (along with two decades of a variety of line ups playing the Sir Douglas Quintet hits).   With a fine horn section in tow Sahm offers up his “San Antonio blues album” covering Brook Benton, Junior Parker and, of course, Guitar Slim along with several of his own numbers. Produced by Dan Healy, The Grateful Dead’s soundman, it’s an excellent album, Sahm whoopin’ it up, his vocals fired, the band loose but not sloppy. There’s jump and jive and slow burning barrelhouse blues here. If you’re a Sahm fan and haven’t got this album then you can stop reading here and just go and buy it.

Nuevo Wave Live is credited to The Sir Douglas Quintet and it appears to be the same recording issued previously as Live Texas Tornado, an album recorded at the Whiskey-a-Go-Go in Hollywood and the Club Foot in Austin, Texas sometime in the early ’80’s. With the likes of  Joe ‘King’ Carrasco on the scene the Quintet’s parping Farfisa Tex-Mex sound was popular again and here the band give it their all on pumping versions of Wooly Bully, Who Were You Thinkin’ Of, Mendocino and the almighty She’s About A Mover. It’s short but sweet, a crisp live recording with Sahm’s rendition of Dylan’s Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues an interesting diversion.

The second disc is a collection of early Sahm recordings delving back to 1958 many of which have been previously reissued on a variety of mongrel compilations. As far as I can see this is the most comprehensive collection so far with 25 songs gathered together.  The road to Hell Of A Spell is already mapped out on The Pharaohs’ bluesy I Can’t Believe You Want Me To Leave and Why, Why, Why, recorded with The Markays in 1060, Sahm, just leaving his teens, already a Texas bluesman. The first ten songs are all vintage rock and blues before Sahm delves into early Tex-Mex land and this is where it gets murky. There are four instrumentals credited to him but no evidence of his presence. Following this are sets of songs from Freddy Fender, Ernest Tubb and T Bone Walker, all fine but tangential to Mr. Sahm’s story. Apart from that it’s a fine disc of rudimentary rock, blues and country.

A quick cost benefit analysis might determine whether this release is destined for your shelves but overall it’s a fine opportunity to catch up on the man who once said, “You just can’t live in Texas if you don’t have a lot of soul”.

Buy the album here

Latest Blabberings

Here’s a few of the albums which have been rocking this joint over the past week.

Betty Soo and Doug Cox Across the Borderline: Lie to Me.

Blabber’n’Smoke first encountered Betty Soo a few months ago. Now she’s teamed up with ace guitarist Doug Cox to produce a fine, simple and superb album of covers. Soo is of Korean stock and hails from Texas while Cox is Canadian. Meeting at a guitar camp (indeed, do such things exist?) they appear to have shared a mutual admiration for Doug Sahm (whom Cox worked with) and soon Cox was touring with Soo. Together they cooked up the idea for this album wanting to share their favourite songwriters with the listener. Hence an album of songs by the likes of Loudon Wainwright, Butch Hancock, Sahm and Guy Clark along with lesser known talents such as Jeff Talmadge and Betty Elders.
Stripped back, the album features the pair on vocals with Cox’s fine resophonic guitar playing shining throughout. It’s an intimate affair, perfect for late night listening and the song selection is spot on. While the goofy country of Big Cheeseburgers (by Blaze Foley) and the bluesy Boxcars (Butch Hancock) are superb readings they excel on a pair of ballads. Betty Elders’ Light in Your Window showcases Soo’s fine clear voice while Guy Clark’s Dublin Blues ends the album on a high note.
Soo and Cox will be touring the UK in September and appear in Scotland for three dates.


Brothers Reid. Top of the Old Road

Brothers Reid are a band from Aberdeen who take Americana by the scruff of the neck and give it a good shake. A busy bustling band this debut might be a little muddy in its production but they have a fine line in their mixture of West Coast influenced rock with some folk influences thrown in. Starting off with Done and Dusted the harmonies and sinewy guitars hint at evenings spent listening to old Steve Miller and Moby Grape albums. Flea Circus continues in this vein but it’s the third song, Farmboy Blues which catches the listener’s ear. While it has a hint of the Grateful Dead’s country leanings the band steer it away from homage with an extended coda that has some fine guitar and strings. The outright folk embellishments on the following song City Lights come as a bit of a shock at first but are a brave reminder that the band hails from Scotland and not California. Despite that California is never far from the mind as they deliver their epic Roll On, a guitar churning slow flowing piece that sounds like it might be a killer heard live. Similarly the closing title song, a blues boogie whose harmonica parts recollect Canned Heat could have an audience on its feet yelling for more. Promising.


JD Malone & the Experts. Avalon

For a debut album his is a bit of a behemoth. Based in Philadelphia Malone and crew have produced a package that one generally expects from established bands. Comprising of two discs, the actual album on CD (with 13 tracks and five bonus cuts) and a DVD of them rehearsing in the studio it looks mighty impressive. Best of all however is the fact that Malone et al pull this off with no sign of filler throughout this bar the repetition of one song, Just Like New which has a “radio edit” version tacked on. Fitting perhaps as this band are nothing other than radio friendly with their version of blue collar American rock. Ringing and stinging guitars, sweet pedal steel and a rocking rhythm section back up Malone’s impassioned vocals on a series of songs that sound as familiar as hell after a few listens. The jangling intro Silver From is straight out of Earle county while the spooky Emmit Meets a Demon recalls the Byrds’ forays into swamp rock. Leave Us Alone has hints of the Jayhawks as has the Ballad of Mr. Bardo.
Covers of Creedence’s Fortunate Son (a great version by the way) and Tom Petty’s I Should Have Known It (on the DVD) show where the band are coming from. While they won’t win many awards for originality they do deserve an award for delivering this fine slice of energetic and rocking Americana.