Guy Clark: Stuff That Works

Sam Gazdziak | October 11th, 2011

guysongsandstoriesGuy Clark’s birthday is definitely a cause for celebration, especially a landmark one like his 70th, coming on November 6. For most of his adult life, Clark has demonstrated why he’s considered one of the premier songwriters around. Whether it’s his earlier classics like “Desperados Waiting for a Train” or more recent fare like “Dublin Blues” and “Hemingway’s Whiskey,” his skill at setting a scene or capturing an emotion has earned him countless accolades and admirers. A pair of projects released this year puts the focus on Clark’s songs, and a good portion of the Americana community is involved.

Clark himself has released his first live album since 1997’s Keepers. While he has mostly toured in recent years with guitarist Verlon Thompson, Songs and Stories features Clark with a full band: Thompson, Shawn Camp on mandolin, Bryn Davies on bass and Kenny Malone on drums. Everybody gets a chance to show off a bit, particularly the fleet-fingered Thompson and Camp. They also get a chance to sing a couple of their own songs, and Camp’s “Sis Draper” and Thompson’s “Joe Walker’s Mare” are standouts.

But this is a Guy Clark live album, and he is deservedly front and center. His voice isn’t as strong as it has been in years past, but his songwriting skills haven’t lessened. A classic like “L.A. Freeway” is about 30 years older than a more recent song like “The Cape,” but Clark’s genius is plainly evident in either case. The one disappointment of Songs and Stories is that Clark sings only nine songs. However, the four performances by Camp and Thompson help to bulk up the album, and listeners should be inspired to check out both of their solo works.

6PAN2TDGSLV.inddMeanwhile, about 30 of Clark’s compatriots, co-writers, friends and admirers got together to create This One’s for Him, a generous two-disc tribute album. It’s mostly a Texas-Oklahoma affair, with performances from Willie Nelson, Kevin Welch, Joe Ely, Lyle Lovett, and Kris Kristofferson, to name a few. Though Townes Van Zandt wasn’t able to contribute, his son, John, proves to be a more than capable stand-in with “Let Him Roll.” There are no real surprises on the album – for instance, Kid Rock appearing on Loretta Lynn’s tribute. Time and time again, though, the singers and their songs are perfectly matched. Try to imagine a more appropriate choice for rockabilly singer Rosie Flores than “Baby Took a Limo to Memphis,” or “The Guitar” for Ramblin’ Jack Elliott.  Robert Earl Keen and Hayes Carll are so ideally suited for “Texas 1947” and “Worry B Gone,” respectively, that they could have written them. It would have been nice to hear Vince Gill singing, but his recitation of “The Randall Knife” more than makes up for it. It’s testament to Clark’s songwriting career that so many artists, representing three generations and several styles, can find the perfect song for them in his catalog. No real liberties were taken with the songs or their arrangements, though Jack Ingram makes a sly little lyric change in “Stuff That Works.” Any Clark fan will appreciate the way This One’s for Him was so lovingly assembled.

Generally speaking, live albums and tributes are nice but not essential additions to an artist’s catalog. In this case, a live evening with Clark and a top-notch band and a collection of outstanding songs and singers are exceptions.

Songs and Stories:

3.5 Stars

This One’s for Him:

5 Stars

 

  1. Leeann Ward
    October 12, 2011 at 8:19 am

    That’s how I would rate the live album as well. It’s good, but I would have liked to hear more from Clark, along with leaving the Thompson and Camp songs on there. I don’t like live albums to be too slim just as I don’t like live shows to be too short. I’m really looking forward to the tribute album, though I also wish that Vince was singing on it. I’m sure the guitar picking will be good, however.

  2. Rick
    October 12, 2011 at 7:58 pm

    Can’t say I know very much about Guy Clark nor his music. On the other hand I love that split-window dual cab VW van in the picture on the cover of the tribute album! I wonder if that old timer is still on the road? Hmm…

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