Although he’s been recording for nigh on 40 years now, and much like his friends and other songwriting legends Emmylou Harris, Townes Van Zandt, Steve Earle, Rodney Crowell etc; Clark’s songs aren’t specifically Country or Folk; although many Country and Folk stars have recorded them to varying success it’s only with the advent of ‘Americana’ that Guy Clark has finally found a comfortable home for his music.
I’ve been a fan since I first received a copy of Old No1 about 10 years ago as a birthday present (a friend with immaculate taste) and I soon came to the conclusion the man has never written a bad song; some brilliant, some only great but no bad ones among them; and that continues here.
To some degree this is Guy Clark’s Johnny Cash album; where the singer reaches an age where he comfortably reflects on his life; but unlike the Man in Black, Guy Clark is still as sharp as a tack and can write or co-write a song as well as anyone in the world.
Cornmeal Waltz which opens the album is absolutely charming; with Guy looking back on the Saturday nights of his youth through rose coloured glasses; but in a way that will resonate with music fans half his age and let me tell you; Shawn Camp’s fiddle playing will tug at your heart strings even if the lyrics don’t.
I’ll Show Me treads a similar line only this song is a Masterclass in songwriting as Clark produces a near perfect slice of Americana that may or may not be about Townes Van Zandt, George Jones, Hank Williams or perhaps even Guy himself as a young man; we’ll never know but the story and arrangement should be on the curriculum of every School of Music and the Arts across the Continents.
When you’re not concentrating Clark slides in two cutting ‘political songs’ that are both timeless and bang up to date at the same time; El Coyote is the painful story of the illegal immigrants that pay small fortunes to smugglers to get them across the Border but take their money and leave them to die. Sadly this isn’t confined to the Tex-Mex border; as similar stories get lost in the middle pages of newspapers in Europe and Asia every day.
The other ‘political’ song is the Talking Blues, Heroes; about a young soldier returning from Baghdad, probably suffering from shell-shock; yet everyone around him regards him and them as Heroes; yet all he can do is ‘smell the smoke/smell the dead.’
Hell Bent on Heartache just goes to prove that ‘love’ isn’t just for young people; even if they do think they invented it. Only someone with a lifetime of experience in such delicate matters could write a song as concise and beautiful as Clark manages here; and Morgane Stapleton provides harmonies that genuinely think that this is what Gram and Emmylou would have sounded like in 2013.
After all of that I now have to take you back to track two which is the title song My Favourite Picture of You; which was written for and about his wife of 40 years, Suzanna who died last year and while searching through a photo box he stumbled on an old photo taken in the 70’s when they argued when she walked in and found him and Townes drunk, again. If this song doesn’t melt your heart you don’t know what love is!
For me Guy Clark was a truly great songwriter in his younger days but has aged like a fine Burgundy wine and is even better today.
Released 23rd July USA
Released 29th July UK & Europe