John Baizley, Nate Hall & Mike ScheidtJohn Baizley, Nate Hall & Mike Scheidt
Album: Songs Of Townes Van Zandt, Volume II
Label: My Proud Mountain
Tracks: 9

This is a sequel to a well-received (although not ideally well distributed) Songs Of Townes Van Zandt, Volume 1 disc that came out in 2012 on this German independent label. "There's only two kinds of music: There's the blues, and there's Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah" said the man himself - and this wisdom has more than a grain of truth, both literal and metaphorical, as the freshly realised, stark treatments of his songs here rather bears out.

It's like the songs have been stripped back to barest essentials emotion-wise, with the direct communication you might associate with "his master's voice" emanating instead from fellow-artists who've come at the songs from first-base all over again. I'd never before heard of any of the performers - Nate Hall is guitarist with heavy-metal band USX, Mike Scheidt is founder of doom-metalers YOB, and John Baizley an artist and designer as well as singer and rhythm guitarist with his own band Baroness. And yet those disparate CVs seem to inform the musicians' raw, uncompromising portrayal of Van Zandt's often harshly melancholic world-view in performances of perhaps surprising immediacy.

Equally-handedly, each of the three musicians gets to perform three songs, and by and large these are well suited to the individuals. Particularly successful, I feel, are Nate's austerely characterised take on the classic narrative Pancho And Lefty, the pained vocal part strikingly embellished by guest Meg Mulhearn's scrawny violin, and album closer If I Needed You, where John, with backing vocalist Kate Jones, make a simple virtue of, and case for, the unison approach.

It's interesting, and I guess a touch puzzling, that three of the nine songs covered here on Volume II had also been chosen for Volume I - my attempts to get to hear these have so far been unsuccessful, so I'm unable to comment on any differences. But in all honesty, the darkness of outlook in Van Zandt's lyrics is powerfully conveyed in these undiluted, committed renditions, which score points where more lavish country covers miss out; these reach those parts… (you know the cliché!).

David Kidman