Tuesday, November 22, 2011

November 22: Townes Van Zandt, "No Place To Fall"

Artist: Townes Van Zandt
Song: "No Place To Fall"
Album: Flyin' Shoes
Year: 1978

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While one cannot exactly fault a certain musician or band for attaining a level of fame, there is no question that in many cases, the truly talented and inspiring musicians often go their entire careers without achieving these more commercially measured heights.  However, it is within this reality that one can also make the case that without the "trappings" of widespread fame or time under massive spotlight, an artist is able to be far more honest and true to their work, and this in turn often results in some of the most beautiful and powerful music the world has ever known.  One can see this as why for many bands, their first record is their strongest, as it represents their sound in its most pure form, and yet even though he made music for more than three decades, this sense of purity and beauty was never lost in the music of Townes Van Zandt.  It is once one looks at his long career where the argument can easily be made that to this day, Van Zandt receives little of credit he so clearly deserves, as regardless of what ones' personal musical preference may be, the songs he recorded easily cut through and hit at the most human level that one can imagine.  All across his recorded catalog, there are songs that have become standards within many different genres, and yet one would be hard pressed to find a more definitive and outright moving song from any point in history than what can be experienced on Townes Van Zandt's soulful 1978 ballad, "No Place To Fall."

As "No Place To Fall" begins, one can hear the almost classic sounds of country music, and get at the same time, there is a tone and a mood to the song that reaches far beyond such a singular classification.  The somber, rhythmic strumming of the lone acoustic guitar almost instantly gives one the feeling of a cowboy sitting alone by a campfire, and get the same time, when can the just as easily picture the song being played in a quiet apartment building in the middle of a huge city.  As this solitary sound softly blends with the slide guitar, the interplay between the two becomes the very definition of the power and beauty that music can achieve when it is created from the heart.  Not far into the songs' introduction, of third guitar enters, and is a way that each of these guitars follows its own path throughout the song that makes "No Place To Fall" such a special musical experience.  It is the moment when the bass guitar joins the mix one can fully grasp the phenomenal mood that Townes Van Zandt has orchestrated, and there is a fragile, almost delicate feel to the arrangement that simultaneously gives a nod to the classic country-western sound, whilst keeping a uniquely modern tone.  The light drumming that finishes off the sonic structure gives just enough of a pace and rhythm to the song to keep it moving forward, and yet it is the slow burning overall atmosphere that sets "No Place To Fall" so far apart from every other recording in the entire history of music.

However, while one cannot overstate the amazing mood that is set forth by the music, is the equally intriguing vocals of Townes Van Zandt that vault "No Place To Fall" to a height that has rarely been reached.  It is the gentle, almost simple honesty within the voice of Van Zandt that almost effortlessly crosses through any musical boundary, and his singing is all the proof one needs to understand the power of real musical talent.  Even at the moments were most artists would have gone back and re-recorded, Van Zandt stays true to his sound, entities these almost "faulted" points throughout the song that are in many ways the trademark of Townes Van Zandt.  There is a calm, gentle, and welcoming tone within every word that Van Zandt sings, and one cannot help but be completely drawn in by his voice.  Yet is also the almost brutally honest lyrics which he sings that makes "No Place To Fall" such a phenomenal musical experience, and while he had already proven his ability in this arena on his previous releases, one can easily make the argument that "No Place To Fall" is the finest lyric of his entire career.  Again, is a level of absolute honesty and the almost "plain" manner with which he describes these feelings that makes the song all the more intriguing, and this stands as one of the few songs in music history that once heard can never be forgotten.

Truth be told, "No Place To Fall" actually first appeared on Van Zandt's live album that was released a year previous, and yet it is the quiet, almost meditative tone that comes through the studio version that makes it far superior.  In the years that followed the release of "No Place To Fall" a handful of cover versions emerged, and yet none were able to capture the mood and overall sonic beauty that one can experience on the original.  Even in recent years, The Little Willies recorded their own version of the song, and while it is certainly fantastic in its own right, there is no question that there's some intangible element still missing.  It is with this in mind that one can make the argument that the "missing element" is the soul and spirit of Townes Van Zandt, as once when here's the rest of his recorded catalog is quite clear that he was a musician beyond the ability of nearly any other.  A large number of his original songs have been recorded by other artists and made famous, and yet he himself has remained comparatively unknown.  Yet one can theorize after hearing the sound mood of his songs that perhaps this unintentional anonymity was exactly what Townes Van Zandt wanted, is allowed him to stay true to his songs and words for his entire career.  Though there are certainly a number of songs in the history of music which one can label as "beautiful," none come even remotely close to the way that that word fits Townes Van Zandt's absolutely blissful 1978 song, "No Place To Fall."

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