Album Review: Guy Clark – Somedays the Song Writes You

Brady Vercher | September 21st, 2009

Guy Clark - Somedays the Song Writes YouGuy Clark is one of the premier songwriters of his generation–even that might be an understatement.

Unlike his friend, the late, great Townes Van Zandt, Clark’s songs have always been readily accessible, yet still manage to contain layers of depth. He likes to talk about the holes he leaves in his guitar playing, but it’s also the holes he leaves in his songs that allow the listener to insert themselves and connect with the message without feeling like nothing more than an observant bystander.

At the same time, it’s never been Clark’s voice that has provided an overwhelmingly compelling reason to listen to his work, although he is able to connect with his songs and deliver them in a way that few others have been able to duplicate. But his voice has noticeably diminished since the outstanding Workbench Songs was released back in 2006. A lack of tempo, in conjunction with his aging voice and sparse production that’s even more scant when not listening through headphones, gives his latest, Somedays the Song Writes You, a plodding feel–by the time any real tempo shows up, it’s nine songs in. Without the right mood or setting, the album is likely to fly by without revelation.

Nevertheless, to dismiss the project would be premature and imprudent.

Aging vocalists receiving critical praise have usually been relegated to a position of singing life retrospectives, that while more poignant to a younger generation, may not reflect the artist’s current outlook on life. It’s not all about pitiful regret or even awaiting the inevitable future and Clark largely avoids going that route, tending to deliver more of what he’s always done. Writing with up-and-comers Jedd Hughes, Ashley Monroe, and Patrick Davis (each with at least two co-writing credits) may have helped prevent the project from veering in that direction.

Despite their contributions, the magnitude of writing with someone of Clark’s stature makes it seem as though they strive for depth at the expense of accessibility. Such is the case with “One Way Ticket Down,” which feels somewhat abstract for having three contributors (Clark, Hughes and Monroe), before the song’s concrete basis becomes apparent.

The first three songs on the album are dedicated to the songwriting process, mostly, quite humbly, chalking it up to inspiration. As Clark has mentioned in interviews, the title track may be a bit cliche, but he ends up making it work. His delivery on “The Guitar” sounds sterilized compared to his live performances. There is a line where the performance can become too theatrical, but Clark is perhaps one of the last to approach that threshold. The highlight of the three, and one of the album’s highlights, is the ode to a shared muse, “Hemingway’s Whiskey.”

The only song not bearing a Clark credit is the requisite cover of a Van Zandt tune, in this case “If I Needed You,” which came to him in a dream while staying the night at the Clarks’ house. The closer and highlight, “Maybe I Can Paint Over That” (written with Shawn Camp and Verlon Thompson) is vintage Clark and is easily relatable by anyone who has experienced regret and not being able to ever completely hide mistakes–just about anyone who’s lived life.

Guy Clark revisits familiar themes and provides a collection of strong, quality songs on Somedays the Song Writes You that would fit in in well amongst a shuffle of his stellar catalog–provided the difference in vocal vitality isn’t too jarring. The project really only suffers when viewed as a whole; it’s a little too much quiet for one sitting.

3.5 Stars

  1. stormy
    September 21, 2009 at 2:32 pm

    Guy Clark is the Hemmingway of song writing–He writes simply but vividly about life in moments in a way which seems like it would be easy to replicate, but no one ever can.

  2. Brittany Easterling
    September 21, 2009 at 3:54 pm

    If you like “Hemingway’s Whysky,” then you should check out Ray Stephenson. He co-wrote the song with Guy (with Joe Leathers) and has written many songs on Guy’s previous albums (Magdalene, Homeless, Funny Bone, exc). Like Guy, he is a great songwriter!!

    Check out:

    http://www.myspace.com/raystephenson
    http://www.youtube.com/user/raybomusic

    I really think everyone will love him! I enjoy his music so much!!!

  3. idlewildsouth
    September 21, 2009 at 5:37 pm

    I cannot wait for this to come out tomorrow. I’ve been soaking up “The Guitar”, a track on one of those samplers American Songwriter Magazine puts in every few issues. On that recording, I didn’t notice a huge decline is his voice, but I don’t really pay all that much attention to it, so who knows. Just the same, i’m very stoked.

  4. CMW
    September 21, 2009 at 5:37 pm

    Very fair review. It’s a typically well-crafted album all around, but the only tracks that have stuck with me after multiple listens are the ones you mentioned – the opening trio of “Somedays the Song Writes You,” “The Guitar” and “Hemingway’s Whiskey,” and the closer, “Maybe I Can Paint Over That.” It dragged a bit through the middle.

  5. Rick
    September 21, 2009 at 5:48 pm

    Guy has a voice only a Texan (or wannabe Texan) could love….

    On the other hand his duet with Nanci Griffith on Woody Guthrie’s “Do Re Mi” is the perfect country song! Take that David Allan Coe! (lol)

  6. Leeann Ward
    September 21, 2009 at 5:58 pm

    I’m pretty sure I’m not a wannabe Texan. Too hot for me. Fair review though. I like the album quite a bit, but it does lag in places.

  7. Rick
    September 21, 2009 at 6:06 pm

    Leeann, I mean “Texan” as in a “Texan At Heart / Texan State of Mind” including the all encompassing spiritual and psychological realms. Actually living down there is not a requirement if your soul is firmly rooted deep in the heart of Texas…(lol)

  8. Jeff
    September 22, 2009 at 11:43 am

    Both this record and the new Kris Kristofferson might drag to some people – I guess we are getting trained to expect lots of musical dynamics. I don’t have a problem with a pretty level record, but I can see how it shies away from mainstream listeners as a whole.

  9. Steve Harvey
    September 23, 2009 at 1:01 am

    In Soviet Russia, song writes you.

  10. Bill Alexander
    September 24, 2009 at 10:31 pm

    I was at the Belcourt–it was a grat show. I have cried both times that I have heard him do Himingway’s Whiskey. I don’t know why.
    Bil

  11. Gianluca
    March 18, 2010 at 9:01 am

    I once was lucky enough to spend a morning talking to Guy Clark about songwriting. Here’s a link to it in case anyone’s interested to give it a listen.

    http://www.sittingwith.com/archive.html#c49

  12. Matthew
    January 17, 2012 at 10:23 pm

    “while staying the night at the Clarks’ house” is a bit misleading. As Townes Van Zandt biographers will attest, TVZ was living with Guy & Susannah at the time, not just ‘staying the night’.
    Apart from that, I felt this was a nice review. I personally like toned-down albums these days as far too many people fall into the trap of getting wrapped up in the ‘production’ part of making an album when they should be more focused on the song-writing and performance aspects of it.
    Just my two cents, for what it is worth.

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