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Posts tagged ‘Steve Earle’

Let Us Praise Guy Clark!

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The casualties in the music world continue unabated this year, with the deaths of Prince and Merle Haggard being among the most recent high-profile losses. But one death that many people missed — or perhaps one that didn’t ring a bell with the masses — and the one that saddened me the most, was that of Guy Clark on May 17.

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Okay, Guy Clark was far from a household name. But in certain circles of the music world (country, or “outlaw country”, folk music) Guy Clark was a legend, both a songwriting genius and an exceptional singer-songwriter in his own right. He hailed from Texas, running in the same musical circles as Townes Van Zandt, Jerry Jeff Walker, and Willie Nelson. I first heard Guy Clark on an episode on Austin City Limits back in the late 1970s and was instantly smitten. I went out and bought his debut album from 1975, Old No. 1. That album featured classics such as “L.A. Freeway” (a song that was a hit for Jerry Jeff Walker), “Desperados Waiting for a Train”, “Rita Ballou” and other gems. Truly, that ranks as one of my favorite albums of all time. His following album in 1976, Texas Cookin’ was just as great, packed with more wonderful songs that other songwriters could only envy, or at least record their own cover versions.

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After those two albums for RCA, Guy Clark switched labels and started recording for Asylum Records. The next three albums (1978-1983) weren’t quite as strong as his first two sets (hey, it would be almost impossible to top those two gems!), but they still boasted classic songs such as “Homegrown Tomatoes”, “Randall Knife”, and “New Cut Road.” After leaving the major labels behind, Clark recorded a consistently good to great series of albums for independent labels in the 1990s and 2000s. His final album, 2013’s My Favorite Picture of You,” was a tribute of sorts to his late wife Susanna (who passed away in 2012) and ranks among his very best efforts. A truly moving collection of songs. Then again, you would expect no less from someone like Guy Clark. His style was far from the cartoonish, sappy country music that so often tops the charts. Instead his songs shone with honesty, emotion, and intelligence. Cerebral country?

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For a sample of how engaging he was in concert, check out Together at the Bluebird Café, a 1995 show held to benefit a dental clinic in Nashville that he recorded with Townes Van Zandt and Steve Earle. The set featured tender love songs, emotionally powerful tunes, and plenty of humor (thanks to some very entertaining “tales” the musicians told between songs); hallmarks of Guy Clark’s songwriting. For another fascinating look at the early years of Guy Clark, look for Heartworn Highways, which is both an acclaimed documentary (much of the footage recorded during live jams in Clark’s home) and a live album featuring Clark and the other musicians.

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Another “must listen” is an album of other artists performing Guy Clark songs, This One’s For Him: A Tribute To Guy Clark. Among the participants on this musical love-fest from 2011 are Willie Nelson, Rosanne Cash, Lyle Lovett, Rodney Crowell, Shawn Colvin, Emmylou Harris, John Prine, Steve Earle, Kris Kristofferson, Patty Griffin, Radney Foster, Jerry Jeff Walker, and many more. It’s a 2-CD set, so rest assured that there are plenty of great songs to he heard.

 

Meanwhile, here are the other CDs soothing my soul and getting heavy play at my home and bookshop recently:

jayhawks_proust

The Jayhawks – Paging Mr. Proust

Hank Thompson – Vintage Collection

Eleanor Friedberger – New View

Jimmy Buffett – Coconut Telegraph

Pete Yorn – Arranging Time

 

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Dexter Story – Wondem

The O’Jays – Family Reunion

Cannonball Adderley Quintet – Pyramid

Cheap Trick – Bang Zoom Crazy Hello

Iggy Pop – Post Pop Depression

 

angola2

Various Artists – Angola 2: 1969-1976

Fleetwood Mac – Tango in the Night

Hank Crawford – Down on the Deuce

Jim Lauderdale – Soul Searching

Black Uhuru – Sinsemilla

 

 

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Various Artists – Dave Hamilton’s Detroit Soul Vol. 2

Little Barrie – King of the Waves

Johnny Hammond Smith – Legends of Acid Jazz

Cornel Campbell – Original Blue Recordings 1970-1976

Nektar – Sunday Night at London Roundhouse

 

idontcares

The I Don’t Cares (Paul Westerberg & Juliana Hatfield) – Wild Stab

Various Artists – Another Late Night: Kid Loco

Little Beaver – When Was the Last Time

Lee Michaels – Highty Hi: The Best Of

The Bats – Volume 1 (3-CD set)

 

counts_groove

The Counts – It’s What’s In the Groove

Commodores – Live

The Toure-Raichel Collective – The Paris Sessions

The Posies – Solid State

Paul Simon – Stranger To Stranger

 

harmonyofsoul

Various Artists – Harmony of the Soul: Vocal Groups 1962-1975

Waco Brothers – Electric Waco Chair

Dungen – Allas Sak

Tracey Thorn – Solid: Songs and Collaborations 1982-2015

Leon Bridges – Coming Home

 

morespecials

Specials – More Specials (2-CD Special Edition)

Harpers Bizarre – The Complete Singles Collection

Lana Del Rey – Honeymoon

American Music Club – Love Songs for Patriots

David Bowie – Blackstar

 

Heartworn Highways

It’s late December, 1975, and a group of musicians have gotten together to perform a few songs. This bunch of singer-songwriters were all young men, all based in the American Southwest (mostly from Texas), still relatively unknown to the music world, but in the words of this album’s producer, ones who “were beginning to change the landscape of country music.” What these musicians were offering was definitely not your traditional brand of hillbilly country, but something that was later dubbed “outlaw country” or even “progressive country.” More whiskey and Texas chili, as opposed to grits and biscuits.

Whatever the label, you could safely say, without exaggeration, that this was one of the greatest collections of singer-songwriters ever assembled; a jaw-dropping group of young mavericks that included Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, Rodney Crowell, John Hiatt, Steve Earle, and Steve Young. Throw in interesting characters like Larry Jon Wilson, Gamble Rogers, and David Alan Coe, and the atmosphere becomes even more intoxicating — in more ways than one! The CD clocks in at nearly 80 minutes, offering stunning performances such as Van Zandt’s classic “Pancho and Lefty,” a few Guy Clark gems (“L.A. Freeway” and “Desperadoes Waiting for a Train”), Crowell’s “Bluebird Wine,” and Coe’s surprisingly tender “I Still Sing the Old Songs.”

Although the film was made in 1976, it’s not clear why it took over 30 years for these recordings to surface. But thanks to efforts by the label, the album’s producer, and sound engineers, a “meticulous audio restoration” was undertaken and the result is an incredible album. It sounds like you are right in the room with these guys, listening to history being made. Not only is this a priceless audio snapshot of great musicians during their formative years, it’s also a thrilling listening experience. And it may cause some listeners to redefine what they think of as country music. 

 

There is also a documentary companion to Heartworn Highways that contains even more music, including performances by Charlie Daniels. But it’s apparently now out of print and the last time I checked on Amazon, even used copies were selling for well over a hundred dollars. Have to patiently wait for a reissue or more affordable offerings.

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The biggest musical contributor to Heartworn Highways — at least the one with the most songs — was Guy Clark, at that time a young songwriter who had just released his first two albums, both of them flawless collections of well-crafted songs; Old No. 1 and Texas Cookin’. Pick any song off either of those albums and you have a classic. Really, it’s hard to think of an artist, in any genre, who had two better albums to launch a career. Although Guy Clark is perhaps best known as a songwriter whose songs have been covered by hundreds of other artists, he’s also a very good singer and the power of his songs are not diminished at all by having him perform them. Which I think, was one reason why fellow troubadour Townes Van Zandt never made it big. Townes was a great songwriter, no question about it, but his vocals took some getting used to. And while Guy Clark is no Willie Nelson in the vocals department, he’s much smoother than Townes. 

For yet another glimpse into the great songs and personalities of these musicians, check out Together at the Bluebird Café, a live album recorded in 1995 with contributions from Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, and Steve Earle. Wonderful tunes performed in small venue with some great between songs patter helps gives this album a refreshing down-to-earth homey vibe. This was also one of the last times the three shared a stage; Van Zandt passed away less than two years later.

 

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