High, Low and In Between by Townes Van Zandt

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Welcome to the first edition of ALBUM HIGHLIGHT LYRIQUEDISCORDE, a new series at lyriquediscorde dedicated to albums and music discovery. The first album for “episode one” is Townes Van Zandt’s 1972 album, High, Low and In Between. The album will be part one in a two-part Townes Van Zandt feature, as the CD version I’m listening to is a double album collection, with High, Low and In Between, as well as The Late, Great Townes Van Zandt. It is one of my boyfriend’s albums from one of the first two boxes of music we’ve brought to our house from his storage. He has quite a collection, and I can’t wait to see, and listen to, all of it.

Townes Van Zandt High Low and In Between Album Highlight Lyriquediscorde

I decided to start with Townes Van Zandt for a few reasons. One, he is part of an early relationship memory between Chris and I. It was one of our first nights spent together, and we were listening to music while lying in bed together, talking, and not talking. We were discussing music, and different artists and bands we liked, and Chris brought up Townes’ music, except that he couldn’t remember his name. From the hints to the style of music and sound of songs, I couldn’t guess it either.

We went a little crazy trying to figure it out. It was like a musical Rumplestiltskin game, except without the first born baby wager. We scanned lists online, searched our musical memories, and did various Google searches until finally, we spotted his name on a country/folk list from the 70’s. It was a huge relief, as silly as that may sound. I’m sure anyone who’s ever wracked their brain to remember a song, or movie, or name of a singer, or actor, will know the kind of relief I mean.

Ever since, its become a shared, fond memory of ours.

Another reason I chose Townes to start off with is that this weekend we are planning to go see the film Blaze, which features Townes as a character (played by Charlie Sexton, another favorite musician of mine).

Blaze Charlie Sexton as Townes Van Zant
Charlie Sexton as Townes Van Zant in Blaze (2018)

Oh, and last but not least, Chris has sent me songs of Townes that I’ve loved, and I want to know and hear more. So, here I am. Hearing more. Starting with High, Low and In Between by Townes Van Zant, the first album for the Album Highlight Lyriquediscorde feature.

High Low and In Between Townes Van Zandt Lyriquediscorde

Townes Van Zandt – High, Low and In Between (1972)
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At first listen, High, Low and In Between feels Southern rooted. I expect to find that it was recorded in Tennessee, or maybe Alabama. But no, the 1971 released album was recorded in Los Angeles, at Larrabee Sound Studios. The album was produced by Kevin Eggers, who had worked with Townes previously. The album features very sparse arrangements, incorporating what has been described as a folk-rock edge.

“Greensboro Woman” by Townes Van Zandt

My favorite track, well tracks really, are “Greensboro Woman” and “Standin'”. The track, “To Live Is To Fly” has been noted as the best on the album, even by Townes himself. I’ll agree it is a good song, but I love the other two just a little bit more.

“Standin'” by Townes Van Zandt

The songs on High, Low and In Between seem to be tales of redemption or the seeking of. There are contemplations on religion and God, questions about love and loss, and sense of self. There are themes that deal with moral dilemmas, and tunes that celebrate both the pleasure of sinning and the joy of being saved.

There are Gospel-soaked numbers that remind me of music my Grandmother used to play and passionately exclaim “amen” to. There is a song about a drunk who falls for a teenage girl, who declares if Heaven has no whiskey or women he is going to the other place. There is a melancholic story-song about a lonely troubadour which seems autobiographical, a mirror to Townes drifter-musician existence.

“To Live Is To Fly” by Townes Van Zandt

The life-affirming “To Live Is To Fly” is one of Townes’ most celebrated songs. In the biography, To Live’s To Fly: The Ballad of the Late, Great Townes Van Zandt (written by John Kruth), Townes is quoted as saying:

“It’s impossible to have a favorite song, but if I were forced at knifepoint to choose one, it would be ‘To Live Is To Fly’.”

(from Wikipedia)

Some have speculated that several of the songs on High, Low and In Between were informed by the murder of Towne’s girlfriend Leslie Jo Richards. It was August of 1971, during the Los Angeles recordings of this album. Leslie was abducted while hitchhiking back to Houston from San Diego. She crawled onto a stranger’s doorstep in Leucadia Beach (in San Diego) and begged for help as she bled to death from stab wounds. Her death was said to have devastated Townes.

Townes was also in the throes of a heroin habit while recording the album, an addiction that would continue to plague him throughout his life.

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“Highway Kind” by Townes Van Zandt

Another standout song to me is “Highway Kind”. This particular track reminds me of songs from other country-folk/alt-country artists I love, including Ryan Adams, Ryan Bingham, Gillian Welch, Guy Clark, John Prine, and Cowboy Junkies. The latter actually recorded a cover of “Highway Kind” for a Townes Van Zandt cover album.

“Highway Kind” by Cowboy Junkies
from the album, Poet: A Tribute to Townes Van Zandt (2001)

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