What made the request so strange was Broza and Van Zandt weren't collaborators or even friends. They had performed together once, during a "Writers in the Round" concert in 1994.
Moreover, there was, and remains, no shortage of better-known artists who admire Van Zandt. His widow Jeanene initially wanted to offer the poetry to admirers like Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings. Former collaborators Steve Earle and Guy Clark must also have been considered.
Instead, though, the issue lay dormant for eight years before Broza again contacted Jeanene. She still had the poems and agreed to send them to Broza. Five years later, he had written music for 10 of the previously unseen works.
The result, Broza's "Night Dawn: The Unpublished Poetry of Townes Van Zandt" is an outstanding record that would have made the songwriter proud. The album is set for release Tuesday.
Broza brings fresh nuance to Van Zandt's lyrics, adding a touch of sunshine to the often dark, sometimes humorous songs.
The collection includes the 10 songs Broza set to music; "Harms Swift Way," which Van Zandt cut as a demo shortly before his death; and "Too Old to Die Young," an instrumental Broza composed in Van Zandt's memory.
On first listen, these don't sound like Van Zandt songs (which is half correct). Even when he was being funny, Van Zandt's music always seemed to have an overarching sadness to it. It couldn't be helped; he lived a strange and often sad life, riddled by addiction. His voice wore that hard living.
Broza's voice is different. It's soft, warm and smooth. It can't always convey the sadness of the author's.
Instead, Broza's acoustic guitar conveys the tragedy of some of these songs. On tracks like "Soul to Soul" and "Holes in My Sole," it's the minor key of the guitar that really conveys the feelings.
Broza brings his own brand to the tracks as well. Near the middle of the album, "Long Ball Hitter," "Old Satan" and "Night Dawn (Silver Dollar)" reveal the artist's pop sensibility.
They may be separated by the chasm between life and death, but Broza is able to meld his music and vocals with Van Zandt's lyrics wonderfully. It's a shame these two weren't able to collaborate before 1997.
My spin: B+
On "Night Dawn," Broza has undertaken a unique and daunting task. While the reasons Broza was chosen remain unclear, it is clear "The Late Great Townes Van Zandt" knew what he was doing. Broza's treatment of the songs is spot-on.
Broza's collection also plays a nice foil to Steve Earle's "Townes," released last year. While Earle, an artist intimately familiar to Van Zandt fans, played a collection of familiar songs by the artist, Broza is an unfamiliar artist playing Van Zandt's unfamiliar works.
This is a definite must for any fans of Van Zandt or Broza. For anyone looking for individual downloads, "Night Dawn (Silver Dollar)," "Soul to Soul" and "Harms Swift Way" are good places to start.
Released: Feb. 23 on S-Curve Records
Producers: David Broza and G.E. Smith
Learn more at: www.davidbroza.net