Welcome to Day Two of AUK’s rundown of the top 10 americana albums ever. The albums have been chosen through the combined wisdom of our writers and as we reach Number 9, it won’t be giving too much away to say that it features the only live album in our top 10. Each album in our ultimate list is being accompanied by a brief evaluation. For this one, that task falls to me, Clint West, so here we go.
Although it was released in 1977, ‘Live at The Old Quarter’ was actually recorded in 1973 on a 4-track portable tape recorder at a small Houston venue in front of less than 100 people. By this time Townes had written most of his best songs, spread across six albums. But whereas some of those albums were overproduced, this sparse live album captured the real essence of Townes at his peak.
In 1977, contractual disputes and a shelved album, meant that Townes hadn’t released anything since 1972’s ‘The Late Great Townes Van Zandt’. The Old Quarter tapes were revisited and ultimately released as a double album. It turned out to be his finest work, showcasing not only the genius of his songwriting, but also the character of the artist. Covers of Merle Travis, Bo Diddley and his friend and huge influence, Lightnin’ Hopkins, give an insight into Van Zandt’s musical roots. The onstage banter and trademark corny jokes also offer insights into Van Zandt’s complex personality.
However, it’s the songs, delivered solo and acoustic, that are the real stars. ‘Pancho & Lefty’, ‘If I Needed You’, ‘No Place to Fall’, ‘Tecumseh Valley’, you could virtually list the whole set without diminishing the quality of either the songs or the performances. It’s arguable that for an artist of such repute and stature in americana, Townes never really achieved that real killer studio album. There are of course, some very good ones, but ‘Live at The Old Quarter’ manages to eclipse them all. A wonderful testament to a genuine legend.