The Great Tomato Singer/Songwriter Collection

The Great Tomato Singer/Songwriter Collection

Various Artists

Tomato Records

Since its inception, long, long ago, Tomato Records has been known as a haven for the singer/songwriter crowd, most namely the legendary Townes Van Zandt. Although the label over the years would release works as varied as the New Orleans piano of Professor Longhair and the avant-garde symphonies of Phillip Glass, most of their releases were built around a guitar, a song and a singer.

This 19-track collection is no different. Three cuts from Van Zandt (“Our Mother the Mountain,” “For The Sake of the Song” and “Colorado Girl”), a few tastes of Eric von Schmidt’s bluesy folk and a couple from Chris Smither. All in all, good stuff. Straying a bit from the formula is pianist Amanda Tree, whose two cuts sound a lot like a folkie Nina Simone — classical yet rootsy at the same time. If the newer artists profiled here, such as Tom Burris, don’t seem to measure up, well, that’s probably due to the fact that they sound a lot like Townes, but not as good. Nobody does. Ryan Montbleau’s two tracks are jarringly out of place here. Sounding like a Ben Harper/Dave Matthews “soul” clone, both cuts suffer from the “trying too hard” syndrome.

The collection is padded with cuts from Hank Williams, Johnny Cash and Jimmie Rodgers, which, while always great to hear, don’t belong here, since they aren’t on Tomato Records. Still, their inclusion does illustrate, along with Townes Van Zandt, the power of a song. And for most of the moments on this record, that point is driven home well.

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