Before I moved to Nashville, I lived the majority of my life in New York City. But I also spent the summers of my early teens in Austin, Texas, where my father was living at the time. I was a little too young to roam 6th Street alone, so I mostly spent time on a horse ranch out in Hill Country (that sadly – this is the new Austin for you – has since been bought, completely gut renovated and fancied up into a luxury home), where I rode a palomino named Kate who no one else wanted, because she had mouth cancer and couldn’t use a bit. I was also responsible for general barn tasks – cleaning stalls, tacking the horses and doing things like picking out hooves and using a tool called a sweat scraper. This was also the first place I heard so much of Texan music, when we’d all head down to the lake after a long day in the fields and listen to one of the ranch hands play songs on the acoustic guitar. Insanely cinematic. Though I didn’t entirely connect with it at the time – I was in the middle of a strong Led Zepplin phase – something about that music got in my bones. Texas did, too.
I connect much more with that music – Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark being the most well-known, if you call it that – than I did then, and I constantly look for anything that continues that fabled tradition. Luckily we have plenty of those guys and gals roaming around this town, including Cale Tyson, who shares a hometown with Townes and also followed his path to Nashville, and is clearly inspired by him (listen to his Cale Tyson EP here). Now he’s working on a new record with an excellent crew including Kenny Vaughan on lead guitar and Don Williams‘ keys player Tyson Rogers, with plans for a release in the wintertime.
In the spirit of thinking about Texas and closed ranches and lost musical heroes, I asked Cale to list the top five under-looked Townes Van Zandt songs for his Nashville Five :::
1. “Like A Summer Thursday”: This one’s off Our Mother The Mountain, one of the first Townes albums I ever got into. The songwriting really struck me when I first heard it. The way he describes a lost lover seems so simple, but it’s really incredibly unique: “Her face was crystal / Fair and fine / Her breath was morning / Her lips were wine / Her eyes were laughter / Her touch divine.” The metaphors just seamlessly paint the picture.
2. “Honky Tonkin’”: I’ve been listening to High, Low And In Between a lot lately. A lot of songs on it, including this one, are more upbeat than other Townes songs. I think this one sticks out a lot, because it’s got that country feel (as if the title didn’t suggest it). The pedal steel’s great and then there’s this weird fuzz driven electric guitar riff. It surprises you at first, but after a few listens you can’t get enough of it. Even though it’s a cover of a Hank Sr. song, the lyrics totally fit Townes’ style – taking someone else’s woman out on the town.
3. “No Deal”: Here’s another one from High, Low And In Between. I’ve been trying to cover this song lately. It’s just a simple, good tune and a fun one, too. Every verse is clever as hell. I love the line, “You don’t need no engine to go downhill and I can plainly see that that’s the direction you’re headed in.” It’s nice to see Townes in a lighthearted mood.
4. “When She Don’t Need Me”: Everything about this song is perfect. The lyrics, instrumentation, melody, and harmonies all fit together so flawlessly. The opening line immediately hits home with just about any guy in a relationship: “When she don’t need me, it makes me crazy.” As the song continues, he explains the beautiful nature of having a lover whom you can depend on to pick you up when you’re feeling low. This could possibly be my favorite Townes song right now.
5. “I’ll Be Here In The Morning”: This one’s about choosing love over the freedom of travel. “I’d like to lean into the wind / And tell myself I’m free / But your softest whisper’s louder / Than the highway’s call to me.” When you’ve got a good thing going, sometimes you just need to stick around ‘til the morning.