Deeply personal return for seasoned Texan…
Guy Clark’s first studio offering in four years comes at a bittersweet time in his life. Starry tribute This One’s For Him, stuffed with covers by fans like Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Steve Earle and Emmylou Harris, was voted best album at last September’s Americana Awards in Nashville. Clark chose to mark this major recognition of four decades of craft by playing a new tune, “My Favourite Picture Of You”. It was written for his wife and fellow songwriter Susanna, who’d passed away just three months earlier.
The song forms the emotional heart of the album itself, which is adorned with a John Lomax photograph of Susanna during one of her frostier moments. Taken outside the Clark homestead in the ‘70s, she’d just stormed out after finding Guy and Townes Van Zandt inside, drunk as baboons. Over simple acoustic guitar and trilling mandolin, the title track finds Clark addressing the image directly: “You’ve got your heart on your sleeve/A curse on your lips/But all I can see is beautiful”.
Not that My Favourite Picture Of You is mawkish or overly sentimental. Instead this is Clark, now in his 72nd year, as the rumpled poet of American folk-blues, imparting these semi-brisk, string-driven tales with his own unique brand of sad, funny, dry wisdom. With the exception of Lyle Lovett’s “The Waltzing Fool”, the songs are all co-written with some of Nashville’s more underrated talents, most notably Shawn Camp. There are mean Mexican border rats, broken soldiers, cornmeal dancefloors and tunes about poisoned fiddle players. Though perhaps the choicest pick is “I’ll Show Me”, in which Clark and Rodney Crowell lay out the delusional interior life of a ne’er do well who sees himself as a young Richard Burton or bullfighter, but whose actual domain is ladies’ night at the Blue Gazelle.
With his health in steady decline over recent years, it’s hoped that this isn’t the last we’ll hear of Guy Clark. Though it’s edifying to know that the quality of his songwriting remains resolutely firm.