Our Mother The Mountain
Like For The Sake Of The Song, Townes Van Zandt’s songs on Our Mother The Mountain are given pompous arrangements. This time, however, the orchestral arrangements are used to complement the bleakness of Van Zandt’s lyrical vision on his darkest set of songs. The narrator in ‘Kathleen’ surrenders himself altogether to hopelessness, while many of the songs address the weakness of man in the face of sin and temptation. In between the darkness, Van Zandt’s writing gorgeous poetry – “Like silence she stands/Like laughter she falls/From a castle of sand/Like a memory she calls” – is the opening couplet to ‘Why She’s Acting This Way’ – and it’s the tension between tragedy and beauty, and between Van Zandt’s dour Texan voice and lyrics and the lush strings and flutes that give Our Mother The Mountain its unique, and at times otherworldly, power.
It’s the bleak material here that stands out immediately. The twenty year old who surrenders first to ‘St. John The Gambler’, then to death in the snowy mountains, the faithful daughter who succumbs to prostitution when her father dies, and the fated lover in the title track are all characters whose choices leave them utterly forlorn, and Van Zandt’s gentle voice and guitar picking capture their despair with empathy and beauty. The pretty ‘Like A Summer Thursday’ is pared down to acoustic guitar and harmonica, while the bluesy groove of ‘Snake Mountain Blues’ is an intelligent change of pace, giving the album a jolt of energy and dark humour just when it’s needed.
Van Zandt captures sinfulness and beauty in equal amounts, and the resulting Our Mother The Mountain is a dark masterpiece, softened by pretty poetry.