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Israeli guitarist David Broza, puts the late Townes Van Zandt's poetry to music on his latest album

Brian T. Atkinson
David Broza calls Townes Van Zandt, with whom he performed for four hours in 1994, 'the essence of the American troubadour.'

Fiery Israeli guitarist David Broza's elegant "Night Dawn: The Unpublished Poetry of Townes Van Zandt" sheds light ("Night Dawn (Silver Dollar)") on dark pages ("Holes in My Soul") that the legendary Texas songwriter posthumously left for him to complete.

The disparate duo performed only once together at a group song swap in Houston in 1994. "That ended up being about Townes and me," Broza says. "Each of us was trying to impress the other, and I was obviously very inspired. Our show lasted four hours."

The 55-year-old guitarist performs Sunday at One World Theatre.

American-Statesman: Were you familiar with Townes before you met in Houston?

David Broza: I was not a fan of Townes when I met him. I only knew a couple songs – "Pancho and Lefty," "Flyin' Shoes" – but I didn't sing them. His personality that night was what really got me.

What was most striking about him?

I came to America when I was 27, 28 years old because I was really fascinated by American culture and folk and jazz and poetry. I wanted to see where it all came from. I sat in front of Townes, and I felt that he really was the essence of the American troubadour. Townes had what I had been searching for and wanted to meet and see in person. The man had a vision. He had a say. His poetry certainly shined on and on.

Which of these poems resonated most as you put music to them?

"Southern Cross" is so American, so Texas. That really captivated me. I love Texas and that Southern feel that reminds me of the Middle East. The hills remind me of Galilee. When you're far away from home and traveling a lot, you try to cling to things that remind you of your roots. The lyrics painted a familiar feeling and connected with me.

How did you approach ‘Harm's Swift Way,' the only one with an existing melody (and reportedly the last song Van Zandt wrote)?

I had heard (Townes') version, and it was very somber. I was very clear that I wanted to reflect that. I gave it a little bit more of a structured, melodic, repetitious feel. It's not a happy song. There's a lot of pain.

What do you think about Robert Plant's version (on September's ‘Band of Joy')?

Robert Plant does a version of it that sounds like another happy, merry day out in the meadow or country fair. It's not (singing, upbeat), "Oh me, oh my, who's gonna mark my time?" Even if a man wants to die, dying is not something you walk to happily. Dying is something you resign to. Townes did not want the story to end, but he couldn't stop himself from ending it, obviously.

How did you personally identify with Townes?

I'm an outsider. Townes was a total outsider, a different cast. He was everybody's friend, and yet he didn't play the game that everybody played. He didn't want to be like anybody else. He wanted to be Townes, and that's really very special.

Will you be playing much of ‘Night Dawn' at One World Theatre?

I'm doing every night a different type of show. I think Austin would be the right place to sing most of the album as I tell the story of our encounter and where I come from. Through that, I'll weave in the Spanish and the Hebrew (songs). In my mind, I'll make the audience actually be Townes listening to me. I think Townes would have liked that.

David Broza