Townes Van Zandt,
Delta Momma Blues
(Rhino, 1971; Tomato, 2003)

One listen to Delta Momma Blues demonstrates that Townes Van Zandt is no typical American songwriter. No songwriter since, perhaps, Hank Williams, displayed such a deliberate knack for avoiding predictability, mawkishness or indifference in songwriting. Lines like "I used to wake and run with the moon" and "now the dark air's like fire on my skin/and even the moonlight is blinding," from "Rake," catapult Van Zandt miles above any songwriter you may want to name, including Dylan, Springsteen and Guthrie. Any songwriter who gives Van Zandt a listen should come to the same conclusion, such as Steve Earle or Lucinda Williams.

Delta Momma Blues is unusually spare, and thankfully so. Whereas past albums such as The Late Great Townes Van Zandt cluttered masterpieces like "Pancho & Lefty" with unnecessary horn sections and other lush arrangements, Delta Momma delivers a fistful of country folk ballads from "FFV" to the gorgeous "Come Tomorrow." None of them is quite as compelling as other spare songs like "Highway Kind" or "Nothin'," but, ultimately, every bit as worth it.

Just when the album has you settled in for what you think will be a conclusion as comfortable and subdued as the first half of the album, it rips into a perfectly haggard and complacent blues number in "Brand New Companion," then enters the near hysteria of the raucous and instantly engaging classic, "Where I Lead Me." "Rake" is clearly a masterpiece of pathos and darkness, one of the most riveting set of verses Van Zandt ever put to paper. "Nothin'" carries that pathos right to the album's last note, its harrowing, odd mixture of blues with a subtle, eastern tone lingering in the silence after the song's last syllable. If for only the last four tracks, this is an essential Townes Van Zandt album. if you're willing to give him your full attention for about 40 minutes, the mellow title track and "Come Tomorrow" are just as worthy of admiration as anything else on Delta Momma Blues.

- Rambles
written by Gianmarc Manzione
published 24 May 2003

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