Now Spinning: Blaze Foley – Duct Tape Messiah

Blaze Foley, affectionately referred to as the Duct Tape Messiah thanks to his habit of decorating his outfits with duct tape, toiled in near-complete obscurity during his life but recently his music has had a minor renaissance moment due to a growing underground buzz, with popular culminating in 2018 with the Ethan Hawke-produced biopic, Blaze. Like many who came to know Blaze’s music in the years since his death, I was introduced to his work by his friend Townes Van Zandt, who memorialized him in song with ‘Blaze’s Blues’. Despite no shortage of talent, Blaze’s unpredictable alcoholic behavior and a series of unfortunate mishaps sabotaged his career, and he left behind only a scattering of hard-to-find recordings when he died. It is remarkable then, that word of his legendary songwriting spread enough to see his songs discovered and recorded by Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard and his original songwriting influence, John Prine.

The album above serves as a soundtrack to a documentary film of the same name, included with this album and also available separately, which includes colorful interviews with Blaze’s friends and collaborators expressing both the beauty of his work and frustration of his life. The personal insight (particularly from his longtime girlfriend Sybil Rosen) strengthens the music, adding a certain bareness to his directly simple songwriting. But the music more than holds up on its own, and mostly with surprisingly solid sound quality despite being drawn from a number of seemingly questionable sources, including unreleased cassettes found in friends’ collections and a 7″ sitting in an Austin, TX record store. While the sound quality does vary along with the quality of the original source material, the vinyl is perfectly pressed and dead silent with Blaze’s voice and surprisingly nimble guitar nice and clear.

The album’s one weakness is that ‘Clay Pigeons’, perhaps Blaze’s finest song, is strangely omitted from this collection. His other relatively known song, the beautiful sweetness and longing of ‘If I Could Only Fly’, covered by Merle Haggard, is included here, alongside lesser-known treasures. ‘Living in the Woods in a Tree’ and ‘Big Cheeseburgers and Good French Fries’ join ‘If I Could Only Fly’ as touchingly honest love songs, while ‘You’ll Get Yours Aplenty’ is a vicious attack on class disparities, with biting, Woody Guthrie-esque verses like :

Social change is still just talk
The things you see in urban walks
Should make you sick and lose your lunch
Inside your high-rise diners

While hardly the most poetically subtle songwriter to come out of Texas folk and blues, the earnestness and intense honesty of Blaze’s writing gives power and sincerity to these performances that provide a promising what-could-have-been glimpse. This limited Record Store Day release is no longer available, but plenty of compilations with overlapping material are, as well as the DVD on its own, which serves as a nice overview of Blaze’s complicated personality and life.

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