High, Low and In Between
1971’s High, Low and In Between is a strangely bi-polar album from Van Zandt, as more than ever there’s a huge contrast between his typically mournful songs, and lighter fare. Lighthearted material like ‘No Deal’ rubs shoulders with beautiful songs like ‘You Are Not Needed Now’ and ‘To Live Is To Fly’. After some stripped back albums, there’s more of a full band sound on High, Low and In Between; the accompaniment is low key and appropriate a lot of the time, although the backing vocals on the gospel songs push them into saccharine territory.
There are a strait-laced gospel pieces in ‘Two Hands’ and ‘When He Offers His Hand’ and it’s hard to know if they’re sincere or parody. Van Zandt is simply more convincing at mournful songs than he is at joyful songs, and there are more of his delicate classics like ‘To Live Is To Fly’ and ‘You Are Not Needed Now’, while the gentle, piano led title track is one especially notable track that didn’t make it onto the career defining Old Quarter live set. Also remarkable is the hyper-paced poker allegory of ‘Mr. Mudd and Mr. Gold’.
High, Low and In Between has some of the least typical and least convincing material in Van Zandt’s catalogue with the gospel songs, but it’s still a fast paced and entertaining set.