The Holy Grail of music documentaries, 1976's Heartworn Highways ranks up there with The Last Waltz and Don't Look Back as essential viewing for fans of American music. Director James Szalapski was in the right place at the right time when he decided to pull focus on country music and hone in on a small group of outlaw songwriters in their prime. Invigorated by Willie Nelson's combination of hippie life and honky tonk, these musicians spurned the big business pop machine that had become Nashville in favor of the rich traditions and heritage found in the American folk music of a time gone by. The list of players covered in this documentary reads like a who's who of '70s outsider country: Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, Steve Young, Rodney Crowell, David Allan Coe, Larry Jon Wilson, Steve Earle, Gamble Rogers, and John Hiatt. James Szalapski captured these legends on the stage, in the studio, at the state penitentiary, and drinking through Christmas. These performances and candid interactions would be honey from the hive for any fan of country music with at least one eye open, but what sets Heartworn Highwaysapart is the thick layer of emotion that runs throughout, the result of a filmmaker's vision as well defined and executed as the Maysles Brother's Grey Gardens. It's one of those movies that has you bursting into tears when there's seemingly nothing on screen worth crying about. This is a time machine on the screen and proof that the stirring sugar mountain of a rough & ready world you heard through the music of Townes Van Zandt and his peers was as real as you always hoped it could have been.
Light in the Attic Records, a label already by now steered and revered by and for its whole-hearted dedication to whole-hog productions, has put one healthy pour of a 40th Anniversary box set down on the bar for sniffin'. Not only do you get Heartworn Highways on DVD with restored image and sound, but you get 45 additional minutes of bonus performances (Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, etc.) and features found on no other edition of this film in existence. Now just wait a little minute, cuz that ain't all... you'll also get a 2xLP whiskey colored vinyl edition of the soundtrack in a Stoughton tip-on gatefold jacket, as well as a download code for the grandkids. Keep your pants on, cuz there's more: an LP sized book with 20,000 words from renowned music critic Sam Sweet interviewing artists, cast, and crew, 100 unseen photos taken during production, and a cast of characters done special by legendary illustrator Kerry Awn. If all of this ain't enough to make your mouth go dry, let me be the first to let you know you'll be getting a 24x36 reproduction of the original film poster. Hoo Doggy!!