When he died in 1997, Van Zandt -- who had performed with Broza at a marathon Writers in the Round concert during 1994 in Houston -- left the Israeli singer-songwriter a shoe box of unreleased poems and lyrics that Broza has now turned into "Night Dawn: The Unpublished Poetry of Townes Van Zandt," a 12-track album due out Feb. 23 on S-Curve.
"It was very mysterious and very sweet and very challenging," says Broza, who recorded "Night Dawn" in June with producer G.E. Smith at Manhattan Beach studios in New York. "It's like something I have never experienced before. I'm just beginning to understand what's happening here -- that it's happening. I only hope I've done those lyrics justice, turning that poetry into song as Townes would've liked."
A "humbled" Broza almost didn't make the album. He met with Van Zandt's widow, Jeanene, shortly after his death and bowed to her request to let her approach more well-known Van Zandt fans such as Bob Dylan or Willie Nelson or Waylon Jennings. "I knew this was something bigger than me," he explains. "I'm not in a position like those people." But eight years later, when he was back in Houston, he called Jeanene to ask what had become of the lyrics. When she told him nothing had happened, they agreed Broza could take a crack and turning them into songs.
"They all deal with death -- almost all of them," says Broza, who wrote spent four years writing music to 10 of the lyrics, finished an 11th, "Harms Swift Way," from a Van Zandt demo and capped the album with his own instrumental, "Too Old to Die Young," that's dedicated to Van Zandt. "But of course he would always cut away suddenly from death and turn them into very personal and deep love and affection for someone. But all of these are about departure in some way."
Broza was also disarmed by the recording sessions, which he and Smith and the band -- keyboardist Jon Carin, bassist Conrad Korsch and drummer Shawn Pelton -- completed in just five days. "I'm a pop artist; I'm used to doing 171 takes to every song and fixing every word," Broza says with a laugh. "Everything here was, like, one take. If I had to sing in front of Townes and sing him those songs, I guess this is what it would be like."
Broza will debut some of "Night Dawn's" songs when he opens for Steve Earle on Dec. 18 at the New York Society for Ethical Culture. "After that I'll do some of these songs in every show of mine wherever I go," Broza says. "I'm interested in performing all over the country."
The track list for "Night Dawn: The Unpublished Poetry of Townes Van Zandt" includes:
"Soul to Soul"
"Holes In My Sole"
"Long Ball Hitter"
"Night Dawn (Silver Dollar)"
"Harms Swift Way"
"Too Old To Die Young" (Instrumental)