I think the writer of the Times article preferred Townes' live albums, the most widely regarded of which I have, Live at the Old Quarter. Live at the Old Quarter just has Townes and his guitar and his stage commentary on the songs, along with a few off-color jokes, as he regales an appreciative audience at the Old Quarter, a bar and nightclub that the albums captures over five nights of Townes Van Zandt in the early '70's. Sure enough, the album proves a total winner in putting the listener in that bar in Houston on a hot Summer night when they had to turn off the A/C during the recordings for the album. I can see why some critics prefer this version of Townes head and shoulders above the Townes we see on his "overproduced" studio albums.
The problem I have with that take has to do with the whole hang-up NorthEasterners have with "authenticity." Briefly, the NorthEastern establishment often looks to Southerners for what they deem an authentic experience of music, visual art, what have you. This goes back to at least the days of Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly, who both found a much wider and appreciative audience thanks to this NorthEastern, mostly New York City, establishment. Bob Dylan played up to this desire for authenticity on these people's part by presenting himself as a train-hopping, rambling troubadour criss-crossing the country jamming with Doc Boggs and Mance Lipscomb in some facsimile of his hero, Woody Guthrie. The "authenticity" of the young Dylan's self-aggrandizing exploits got met with a skepticism in some quarters (It's Dave Von Ronk, I think, who casts doubt in the Martin Scorsese Dylan documentary No Direction Home) that only grew more circumspect with the passing years.
This particular New York Times writer's criticism of Townes' studio albums as overproduced recalls the criticism of Patsy Cline's studio work. Critics of Owen Bradley's instrumental and choral arrangements on songs such as "Sweet Dreams," "Crazy" and "I Fall To Pieces," along with most of her other studio work, will point to her live recordings that feature a leaner, more traditional, dance-night oriented combo as the more authentic Patsy-for those who find her studio arrangements wanting. I think Tyler Mahan Coe typifies this criticism of such production on Patsy's and Townes' records as johnny-come-lately rock music fans imposing their ideas of what country and singer-songwriter oriented folk music should sound like on record.