I remember it came pretty much as a shock to me, when I first heard that Israeli singer/songwriter/amazing guitarust David Broza received a bunch of poems from Townes Van Zandt’s widow, to compose.
It was a special request from the late Townes himself, after he met Broza back in 1994. It came as a shock because it was so surreal. Israelis know Broza as a talented musician, operating for years in the country, but carrying the tradition of flamenco guitar and Spanish melodies and influences, a romantic, adult contemporary style music. Broza has been active since the late 70’s, and released couple of best sellers in the country, and just the fact he actually met Townes, let alone compose a bunch of his songs at the his special request – is surreal.
To make a good example of how strange this connection is, just think of Loretta Lynn receives a bunch of Jewish prayers to give it a new interpretation, country style. It’s a bad example, but it’s the best I can give.
At first, after Townes’ death, Broza humbly refused to compose the songs. He believed they’ll be in a better care by legends like Dylan or Willie Nelson. But, eight years after, while in Huston, he phoned Townes’ widow Jeanene and asked her what has happened with the songs, when she replied ‘nothing’, like the old Townes song, Broza decided to take the mission and do it. Broza gave an interview to Billboard about it, see here.
As someone who earned the most accurate compliment in the world, from one Bob Dylan who said “you use the guitar like it was a machine gun”, I was surprised again when I first listened to the album. I was expecting a somewhat Bert Jansch like album, just, you know, flamenco style. A kind of an album that shows Broza’s tech abilities as a phenomenal guitarist, but I was happy to hear that at least from that aspect, Broza left his abilities out (Well, except for the wonderful album closing track Too Old To Die Young). Not that he’s not playing amazingly on the classical guitar, it’s just not a one man show that requires that kind of playing. He’s backed up with a wonderful group of musicians, producing warm and delicate and woody tone.
The blues you’d expect from Townes isn’t here though. At first, I missed it, because what is the blues if Townes’ soul isn’t there? But at some point, I stopped treating the album as a lost Townes album, but started looking at it as a Broza album, taking a differenet approach, and the blues motives that does exist here, are completely Broza style. Long Ball Hitter is a pub song, going from the tradition of Memphis Slim to Albert King, but nothing too sharp or aggressive.
Instead, Broza brings an entire range of influences, and beautifully mixing Spanish, Israeli folk, bits of jazzy touches all covered with soul and authenticity. It took Broza four years to compose these songs, and it definitely shows, in each and every melody present in the album.
Broza’s ability of singing in English is surprisingly good. Not that the guy doesn’t know present simple/progressive, but his way of singing someone else’s lyrics in a foreign language and make it sound soulful are admirable. Southern Cross starts exactly like one of Townes tunes that I simply can’t remember which, but the rest is entirely Broza’s, and his voice is warm and somewhat captivating.
Townes’ lyrics are mainly about death, and though he touches some heavy subjects in his writing, he always knew to add a sort of a blink to his words, something like “don’t worry, death comes anyway, smile”, and this collection of lyrics is no different.
All and all, this is a very good album, but it requires a special attention prior to the listening. If you believe you’re about to listen to a good lost Townes album – stay away, change your expectations and come listening to it again. If you’ll treat it like listening to a new Broza album, happened to be based on Townes lyrics, and full with southern soul from a non-American composer – you’ll gain a wonderful listening experience. It’s not blues or country/folk, it’s closer to the recent albums of Mark Knopfler and maybe Lucinda Williams. Not entirly rootsy, but more of an adaptation of a foreigner, to the holy grail of American music, and Broza is an excellent choice by Townes for someone to take his lyrics and pour life into them.
Townes life, as documented in the excellent DVD Be Here To Love Me, looks tough and inconsistent towards the eighties and nineties, but for a fan like me, who likes Townes when he’s sober or drunk, it doesn’t matter. Townes was an authentic soul and musician, and no matter what kind of mistakes he did in his life, at least two great decisions that I know of where made by him. One was taking Broza to compose the songs. The other was adding strings to Kathleen.
Soul To Soul
Long Ball Hitter
Shoelaces (a Broza Hebrew song, from a 1983 album called “Card“, a different glimpse of Broza)
Buy : Amazon