AUK’s top 10 americana albums ever: Number 9 – Townes Van Zandt “Live At The Old Quarter, Houston, Texas”

Tomato Records, 1977

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.


About Clint West 325 Articles
From buying my first record aged 10 and attending my first gig at 14, music has been a lifelong obsession. A proud native of Suffolk, I have lived in and around Manchester for the best part of 30 years. My idea of a perfect day would be a new record arriving in the post in the morning, watching Ipswich Town win in the afternoon followed by a gig and a pint with my mates at night,
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Andrew Trott

Great review . Maybe the most concise i’ve read of such a classic album .

Martin Johnson

You are absolutely spot on about his studio albums. I think Townes is one of the few artists who have been well-served by the plethora of live releases of his work which have added to his stature rather than diminishing it. Old Quarter is the granddaddy though, pure magic.

David Wedge

What a great song choice Clint. And of course there’s a wonderful cover version of it by Steve Earle on his Train A Comin’ album. A shame that we won’t be seeing him appear in the top 10.