Album Review: Guy Clark – Somedays the Song Writes You
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.
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