Saturday, October 5, 2019

CD Odyssey Disc 1305: Guy Clark

I’m in the middle of a pretty wonderful long weekend. It’s raining right now, but I like the rain. The variety of spring and fall are more appealing to me than the sunny days of summer, lovely as they are.

But enough about the weather…let’s talk about the dark.

Disc 1305 is… The Dark
Artist: Guy Clark

Year of Release: 2002

What’s up with the Cover? Sometimes in the dark, all you have is yourself. I think that’s what this fingerprint on black is saying. Anyway, the cover is stark and plain and honest, much like songs on this record.

How I Came to Know It: Guy Clark has an amazing website where you can listen to every album he has ever released for free. It is user friendly and welcoming, and encouraged me to go through his whole discography – 13 albums in all. “The Dark” was part of that journey.

How It Stacks Up:  At the end of the experience I found six albums that inspired me enough to purchase. Of those, “The Dark” ranks #1, bumping early favourite (and my first purchase) “Dublin Blues”. This being the last of my Guy Clark reviews, here’s a recap:

  1. The Dark: 4 stars (reviewed right here)
  2. Dublin Blues: 4 stars (reviewed at Disc 322)
  3. Texas Cookin’: 3 stars (reviewed at Disc 819)
  4. Cold Dog Soup: 3 stars (reviewed at Disc 762)
  5. Somedays the Song Writes You: 3 stars (reviewed at Disc 655)
  6. South Coast of Texas:  2 stars (reviewed at Disc 582)
Ratings: 4 stars

A lot of artists do their best work early in their careers, but Guy Clark is like a fine scotch; he just gets better with age. Counting forward from his first record in 1975, that means “The Dark” is a refined 27 years old. The result is a record with homespun wisdom of an experienced songwriter, combined with songs that make you shiver with the truth.

Guy Clark is one of those artists whose reputation among his peers far exceeds his commercial success. His songs have been recorded by the likes of Steve Earle, Lyle Lovett and Emmylou Harris, but there’s a good chance you didn’t realize it at the time. For those in the know (including those three), Clark is one of country music’s finest songwriters. His voice is a bit gravelly and lacks range, but when you’re working with songs this good it is easy to forgive.

Clark plays guitar on all these tracks as well. He plays with a back-porch mosey that matches well to his vocal style. The overall effect gets your ear focused on the stories Guy’s telling, which is the best way to enjoy this music.

On “The Dark” Clark’s stories run the gamut. Character studies and historical fiction stand alongside songs of love and social justice, all lifted to a high level by Clark’s keen observation, and talent for making small details feel like universal truths.

Magnolia Wind” is one of the finest love songs you’ll ever hear. If you have someone you don’t want to lose, this song will put some tightness in your throat. The song is replete with the images of loss, none better than:

“I’d rather not walk through the garden again
If I can’t catch your scent on a magnolia wind.”

Soldier’s Joy, 1864” tells the story of a civil war veteran who becomes addicted to morphine while recovering from horrific wounds. The story is entirely from the soldier’s perspective but shines a light on the horror of both addiction and war with equal dignity.

Themes of aging and the wear of the world feature prominently on “The Dark”. On “Bag of Bones” where an old man opines “this old bag of bones ain’t really me/there’s a lot more standin’ here than what you see” and on “Homeless” Clark alternates the viewpoint of someone who has lost everything, with the people walking callously by and looking the other way.

My favourite track is “Queenie’s Song,” which tells the story of someone shooting the narrator’s dog on New Year’s Day. The song starts harsh and stays that way, as Clark provides the perfect mix of futile anger and sadness at the crime:

“Some S.O.B. shot my dog, I found her under a tree
If I hadn’t loved that dog so much it wouldn’t mean nothin’ to me
You son-of-a-bitch, I’m gonna tell you what, I will not be deterred
I’ll find you out and I’ll track you down, on that you have my word.

“Queenie’s getting’ buried, it’s time to dig the hole
New Year’s Day in Santa Fe broke mean, and it broke cold.”

I’m an avowed cat person, but damn – this one gets to me every time.

Late on the album Clark covers fellow country great and close friend Townes Van Zandt’s “Rex’s Blues”. Van Zandt died in 1997, far too young. Clark died in 2016 which is still too damned soon as far as I’m concerned. We’ll get no more great songs from either of them now, but of all of the great albums Guy Clark left behind, “The Dark” is the best of them.

Best tracks: Arizona Star, Magnolia Wind, Soldier’s Joy 1864, Homeless, Bag of Bones, Queenie’s Song, The Dark

No comments: