Friends and heroes pay tribute to the iconic Guy Clark on two fantastic new releases.
I must admit to being a bit of a Davey-come-lately to the music of Guy Clark. In fact, up until just recently, Guy’s music had spent zero time in my ears. And, at the risk of irreparably dinging my folksy musical street cred, I must even admit to a time in my life when, in my ignorant mind, Buddy Guy and Guy Clark were, at worst, the same guy, or, at best, confused with each other.
With much happiness, however, I can report that I am befuddled no more.
The genius in Guy Clark’s songwriting has been reverberating through my skull since late last year, when two fantastic records crossed my desk. The first, Guy Clark – Songs & Stories, is a live release recorded at the historic Belcourt Theater in Nashville, Tennessee. Joining Clark on stage were his long time playing partner, Verlon Thompson, percussionist Kenny Malone, bass player Bryn Davies, and Shawn Camp, perhaps this generation’s closest embodiment of Clark’s musical spirit. Clark and company traded songs and stories, working their way through some of his most well known tunes – “L.A. Freeway,” “Homegrown Tomatoes,” and “Magnolia Wind” – while working a cover of Townes van Zandt’s “If I Need You,” a song Clark notes that Townes wrote while asleep in Clark’s house, and a newer tune, “Maybe I can Paint Over That,” a collaboration between Clark, Thompson, and Camp that is, perhaps, my favorite tune on the record.
Clark’s voice hums with an easy – and earned – weariness on Songs & Stories. Though over 70 years old, the joy Clark feels at being on stage with close friends and musical compatriots is evident in his singing and storytelling. This was the perfect introduction to the work of Guy Clark.
But, as good as Songs & Stories was, it didn’t prepare me for what was in store when I first listened to This One’s For Him – A Tribute To Guy Clark. Though Guy doesn’t sing a note on this two disc tribute to his astounding body of musical work, the collection of Americana icons who do sing is jaw dropping. The liner notes read like a who’s who of contemporary roots, folk, and country music – Lyle Lovett, Roseanne Cash, John Prine, Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Joe Ely, Jerry Jeff Walker, Vince Gill, Kris Kristofferson. And that’s not even half of the performers who have a go on one of Clark’s tunes!
Clark’s way with a word is so beautifully evident in these songs. To call him a singer-songwriter is too simple; the man was a poet-songwriter, with songs that gushed folksie wisdom and lyrical eloquence. Take a listen to Emmylou and Prine on “Magnolia Wind,” Kristofferson on “Hemingway’s Whiskey,” or Ron Sexsmith on “Broken Hearted People.” Clark wore his feelings on his shirt sleeves, or perhaps his guitar strings, and the reverence felt for these songs is expressed wonderfully by each of the artists on this collection.
Finally finding Guy Clark is bittersweet – I am thrilled that I am now digging into his discography, but I am kicking my own ass for waiting so long. Most importantly, I am stunned by the ability Clark’s music has had in making me reevaluate my understanding of what great songwriting truly is.
For a taste of what you can find on This One’s For Him, take a listen to Willie Nelson’s “Desperadoes Waiting On A Train” on this month’s Trail Mix for free right here on the Blue Ridge Outdoors website.