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“Let’s give her a good go and make ol’ Guy proud of us says Rodney Crowell as he kicks off an album featuring no less than 30 of his finest songs (there is still a bunch more just as good that did not make the cut) and 33 American artists. Many of who are, old friends with others that have been hugely influenced by arguably the greatest songwriter to come out of Texas. His songs as quoted by Lyle Lovett are great literature, songs that conjure and weave vivid and never to be forgotten imagery. Rounder released a compilation album once with the title, Craftsman and Guy is just that. To give you an idea of his treasure chest of songs the songs on the twin-CD come from the three albums he made for Warner Brothers, and there is as heap of them that are classics that could jut as easily have made it on to this record.
This tribute has been a long time coming but the wait has been worthwhile. Undoubtedly, there are occasions where I have to stop myself from comparing the acts to those of Guy but that is understandable. I have been a fan since 1975, I still remember buying his debut album on RCA Old No. 1 and soon afterwards Emmylou Harris’ (Harris who has sang on Clark’s cds in the past is joined by John Prine for a cover of ‘Magnolia Wind’) albums Pieces Of Sky and a year later the equally brilliant, Elite Hotel and Clark’s second album, Texas Cookin’. That is just for starters as people like Mickey Newbury, Billy Joe Shaver, and Jerry Jeff Walker and of course, Waylon and Willie causing a stir. It was an exciting time as a new era beckoned for country music. It was when you have rock fans giving time of day to a music that was not just country but so much more. Old No 1 album paved the way for Nashville’s up-and-coming singer-songwriters who just happened to be in the main from Clark’s home State, Texas. Plus you had Waylon (Jennings), Willie (Nelson), Tompall (Glaser) and Jessi Colter under the heading of The Outlaws and the first country million-selling album Wanted (RCA).
While one or two acts coming through during the time did fall by the wayside and in some cases take longer to blossom and gain recognition they warranted. As for Clark, he strove through the 1970s and into the early 1980s. First with RCA and then Warner Bros before stepping back a pace before regrouping with his album Old Friends on U2s record label. How fitting it is that his long-time buddy, Rodney Crowell with whom Clark has written a few fine songs kicks the tribute away with ‘That Old Time feeling’, plus to have Joe Ely who, likewise hits the road running a couple of years later with his self-titled solo album. His fine version of ‘Dublin Blues’ like Terry Allen’s awesome version of ‘Old Friends’ (with Verlon Thompson on harmony vocals and Lloyd Maines on acoustic slide guitar), Patty Griffin’s killer version on ‘The Cape’ (the best I have ever heard, even better than Guy’s!) and Lyle Lovett’s sympathetic handling of ‘Anyhow I Love You. While performed, solo by James McMurtry is one of Clark’s best in recent times, ‘Cold Dog Soup’ that rises in majestic fashion to do Guy and JM maximum credit. There are many others too. Willie Nelson’s ‘Desperados Waitin’ For A Train’ comes two decades after he recorded it with Waylon, Cash and Kristofferson as a member of the Highwaymen and shows the veteran acts is still a force.
Other highlights include, the wondrous ‘Homeless’ performed by sometime writing partner, Shawn Camp. Who, along with Verlon Thompson (Guy’s long time tour partner) picks some might acoustic guitar on the album and rough-hewn vocalist Ray Wylie Hubbard’s working of Guy’s humorous ode ‘Homegrown Tomatoes’ and young, up-and-coming act Hayes Carll (‘Worry Be Gone’) and such dramatic affairs as ‘Texas 1947’ (Robert Earl Keen), but even REK hasn't the verve Guy had in his prime and that is saying something.‘The Last Gunfighter Ballad’ (Steve Earle) is another excellent pairing then with a gentle swagger Thompson’s easy slide into ‘All Through Throwin’ Good Love After Bad’ has a great warmth to it. For though his voice hasn't the force of such is his artistic delivery and careful handling of a lyric he too is a winner. While singer-songwriter Guy Nicolson shares the stage with fellow acts and instrumental greats Darrell Scott and Tim O’Brien as a fire is lit beneath Clark’s golden oldie ‘Texas Cookin’. Like with a bunch more, he will, undoubtedly approve of their sterling efforts. Among the female acts taking part the all to often over-looked Shawn Colvin with the help of the usual set of pickers takes ‘All He Wants Is You’ to another level, and there are others who likewise don’t only record Guy’s songs but, give their heart and soul to the songs in a fashion worth of Crowell’s opening statement. People like Rosie Flores, Kevin Welch, Jack Ingram, Radney Foster, Rosanne Cash, Suzy Bogguss and Kristofferson etc.
I can’t let this review go without heaping praise on Jen Gunderman (piano, accordion, Wurlitzer) who, like Thompson and Camp works tirelessly as a sideman or the production work of Tamara Saviano and Camp. A previous Grammy winner for her production work on the album ‘Beautiful Dreamer –The Songs Of Stephen Foster Saviano looks set to add to her trophies through this wonderful effort.
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