Townes Van Zandt: The Late Great Townes Van Zandt

Significantly later than he was, but equally great.

You can trust Louder Our experienced team has worked for some of the biggest brands in music. From testing headphones to reviewing albums, our experts aim to create reviews you can trust. Find out more about how we review.

The only time I ever saw US country-folk singer-songwriter Townes Van Zandt play live, he told a joke about a policeman and a penguin. It was a genuinely funny story and the audience laughed accordingly. Then the gentleman in the seat next to me leaned over and whispered, “You know what? He tells that joke at every fucking show.”

Whether he did or not, the idea that the man Steve Earle once described as “the best songwriter in the whole world” didn’t put as much effort into his comedy routine as he did his songwriting is a believable one, not least because Van Zandt slaved over his songs.

Exquisitely crafted, delicately played and mournfully sung, 1972’s The Late Great might be Townes’s finest album. If you can get past his voice, which falls short of the right notes as often as it hits them, some of the songs are as good as any. Pancho And Lefty (later an enormo-hit for Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson) is here, as is If I Needed You (an enormo-hit for Emmylou Harris).

Timeless opener No Lonesome Tune lives up to its title by being one of Van Zandt’s less miserable numbers, but the crowning glory is Silver Ships Of Andilar, an epic tale of howling misery and grim, grim death.

Fraser Lewry

Online Editor at Louder/Classic Rock magazine since 2014. 38 years in music industry, online for 25. Also bylines for: Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine, The Word Magazine, The Guardian, The New Statesman, Saga, Music365. Former Head of Music at Xfm Radio, A&R at Fiction Records, early blogger, ex-roadie, published author. Once appeared in a Cure video dressed as a cowboy, and thinks any situation can be improved by the introduction of cats. Favourite Serbian trumpeter: Dejan Petrović.