The Highway Kind
Sugar Hill Records, Inc.
A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
The Highway Kind was released in March 1997, only three months after Van Zandt's untimely death on New Year's Day. The title is quite appropriate since all the tracks were recorded on tour in the United States and Europe, and many of the tracks have a traveling theme and/or deal with isolation and longing: Lost Highway, Dublin Blues, and Wreck on the Highway. Eight of the fourteen songs were written by Van Zandt.
The impact that Van Zandt has had on the folk music and Texas songwriting community is immense. A recent tribute show was aired on PBS's Austin City Limits including, among others, Steve Earle, Emmylou Harris, Nancy Griffith, and Guy Clark. Quite appropriately, the second track, Dublin Blues, was written by Clark.
The first three songs draw the listener into an increasingly depressing mood, from the gentle melody of the opening track, Still Lookin' For You, to Dublin Blues, to the hopelessness and weariness in Van Zandt's voice in Lost Highway. This depression gives way to A Song For, about returning home from the road and reinvigorating the relationship with his lover.
The beginning of The Hole is a powerful moment. Minor chords are strummed, then Van Zandt speaks, "The old woman finally caught me, sneaking around her cave. Her hair looked just like barbed wire, and smiled like the grave." The song tells a story full of imagery that is scary, yet intriguing.
A cover of Hank Williams' (I Heard That) Lonesome Whistle is included complete with a tasteful fiddle by Jim Calvin and "smoker's-cough" yodeling by Van Zandt. Van Zandt's humor peeks through briefly in No Deal, a song about admonitions from doctors and car salesmen to clean-up his viceful lifestyle.
The sparseness of the instrumentation is quite apparent, and adds to the haunting images and loneliness from many of the tracks. The sound quality is generally good for a live album; in fact, at first listen I thought it was a studio album, save for a few smatterings of muted applause. The CD booklet does not contain lyrics, nor anything about where or when the songs were recorded, which would have been nice additions.
The Highway Kind, while probably not Van Zandt's best album, is a fitting tribute, recorded in the environment in which Van Zandt was said to shine most strongly: on the road.
Edited by Roberta B. Schwartz