musings on music, travel, books, and life from Southeast Asia

Posts tagged ‘Townes Van Zandt’

Let Us Praise Guy Clark!


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.


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.


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?


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.


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:


The Jayhawks – Paging Mr. Proust

Hank Thompson – Vintage Collection

Eleanor Friedberger – New View

Jimmy Buffett – Coconut Telegraph

Pete Yorn – Arranging Time



Dexter Story – Wondem

The O’Jays – Family Reunion

Cannonball Adderley Quintet – Pyramid

Cheap Trick – Bang Zoom Crazy Hello

Iggy Pop – Post Pop Depression



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




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



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)



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



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



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


Rumer Has It

In case, you haven’t heard Rumer, get ready to meet the ghost of Karen Carpenter. Really, it’s almost eerie how much that Rumer sounds like Carpenter, the late, beloved singer of “We’ve Only Just Begun”, “Close to You,” and other 1970s pop hits. Listening to Rumer (whose real name is Sarah Joyce) sing, the warm timbre or her voice, the phrasing; it’s like Karen Carpenter all over again. That comparison side, Rumer is not some sort of lame impersonator whose songs all sound like rehashes of Carpenters classics, but her music certainly does invoke a pleasant feeling of pop nostalgia.


Earlier this year Rumer released her second album, Boys Don’t Cry, a fantastic collection of covers of songs all written and originally performed by male artists in the 1970s. I was pleasantly surprised to find the CD at the Gram shop in Bangkok’s Siam Paragon mall earlier this month. Boys Don’t Cry features fairly well known tunes, such as Daryl Hall & John Oates’ “Sara Smile” and Bob Marley’s “Soul Rebel”, balanced with more obscure compositions from big names such as Leon Russell, Tim Hardin, Richie Havens, Isaac Hayes, and others. Impressively, Rumer didn’t select the “obvious hits” by these artists, but instead sought out album tracks that are less known. Clearly, Rumer did her homework in picking songs that were not only suitable for her voice, but ones that really meant something to her. Hearing her sings these songs, the passion is evident. Perhaps the biggest surprise is the album’s closing number, her cover of Neil Young’s “A Man Needs a Maid.” That may strike many as an odd song for a woman to sing, but Rumer manages to put a new twist on those lyrics and transform the song into something less maudlin.


Besides fine music, another plus to the CD edition of Boys Don’t Cry is the accompanying booklet. In addition to the songwriting credits, each track listing has a cover photo of the album that the original song came from. Very cool touch! Hopefully, this might inspire a listener to seek out the original versions, songs by cool characters such as Townes Van Zandt, Terry Reid, and other fine singer-songwriters from that special era.


Rumer’s 2010 debut album, Seasons of My Soul, was a refreshing and striking blend of original compositions and a handful of covers. Her vocal style had that Karen Carpenter vibe, of course, plus the song arrangements brought to mind the classic Burt Bacharach-penned songs from the 60s and 70s. No annoyingly clunky hip-hop production or other unnecessary contemporary flourishes, just quality pop songs wrapped around a luscious voice with uncluttered arrangements.


Rumer has received lots of favorable press in the UK during the past two years, but sadly, she remains virtually unknown in the USA. Part of that is due to the tardy release of her albums in the states. For some odd reason, her American label has delayed the release of both albums, waiting several months after they’ve been available in the UK to finally make them available. But that practice seems to be par for the course for the clueless corporate clones that make such decisions. That’s a shame, because Rumer is a supremely talented vocalist and deserves to be much better known.


February 2012 Listening List

These are the albums (all of the compact disc variety; I’m not a download dude) that are commanding my attention lately, not to mention keeping me sane and happy during these turbulent times. As usual, it’s a mixed bag of old and new, covering various genres. Just the way I like it!


Cut Copy – Zonoscope

John Cale – Paris 1919

Mayer Hawthorne – How Do You Do

Gabor Szabo – Spellbinder

Dusty Springfield – Dusty in Memphis


Al Kooper – Rare and Well Done

Saint Etienne – Sound of Water (Deluxe Edition)

Howard Tate – Howard Tate

Ryan Adams – Ashes & Fire

Ornette Coleman – The Shape of Jazz to Come


Hank Crawford – Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing

Elvis Costello – National Ransom

Mike Scott – Bring ‘Em All In

The Jazz Crusaders – Live at the Lighthouse ‘66

The Drums – Portamento


Townes Van Zandt – Live at the Old Quarter; Houston, Texas

The Cannonball Adderley Sextet – In New York

Camel – Lunar Sea: An Anthology

Poco – Under the Gun/Blue and Gray

Destroyer – Kaputt


The Lotus Eaters – No Sense of Sin

Bon Iver – Bon Iver

Eddie Hinton – A Mighty Field of Vision: The Anthology 1969-1993

Duke Ellington – The Afro-Eurasian Eclipse

Robbie Robertson – How to Become Clairvoyant


Ebo Taylor – Life Stories

14-Carat Black – Ghetto: Misfortune’s Wealth

Gomez – Five Men in a Hut

The War on Drugs – Slave Ambient

Passion Pit – Manners


Lenny Kravitz – Black and White America

Grateful Dead – Europe ’72, Vol. 2

Pale Fountains – From Across the Kitchen Table

NRBQ – Keep This Love Goin’

Snow Patrol – Fallen Empires


Darondo – Listen to my Song

The Billy Cobham-George Duke Band – Live on Tour in Europe

The Pursuit of Happiness – The Downward Road

Willie Tee – I’m only a Man

Peter Bruntnell – Ends of the Earth


Dizzy Gillespie – On the French Riviera

M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming

Jimmy Eat World – Invented

Various Artists – Saint Etienne Presents Song from the Dog & Duck

Sonny Rollins – Freedom Suite

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.

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.


Tag Cloud