Townes Van Zandt,
In Pain
(Normal, 2000)

An obvious companion to Townes Van Zandt's other superb Live acoustic album, Abnormal, In Pain delivers haunting acoustic ballads that sound as if wrenched from a deep burrow of pain in Van Zandt's heart. Take for example "Nothin'" and "Stopping Off Place," a suitable anecdote to Alexander "Skip" Spence's ghostly "Cripple Creek." This album's rendition of "Highway Kind" is simply Van Zandt's best ever, proving it a required listen for any aspiring songwriter with a soul.

However, this album rises above Abnormal's solemn motif with brilliantly raucous performances of "Mr. Mudd & Mr. Gold" and "White Freight Liner," a track that pulls tears from my eyes every time I listen to the nearly 50-year-old Van Zandt successfully strive for the high notes he hit on the studio version of 20 years prior. No one can be sure, but the extraordinary power of these performances sounds as if Van Zandt knew he was walking his last miles; his heartbreaking death shocked the songwriting world just months later.

Simply put, In Pain joins Abnormal as an astoundingly stirring recording of the last days of the greatest troubadour who ever graced this earth. Let's hear more from that now-legendary acoustic tour.

- Rambles
written by Gianmarc Manzione
published 15 March 2003

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