Five words immediately come to mind with the
arrival of this long-overdue tribute to one of America’s most remarkable
songsmiths, those words being “What took so damn long?” Every performance on
this excellent 30-song, two CD set reflects the wrenching emotions that are
instilled in every one of Guy Clark’s compositions. These tattered narratives
praise hard-luck losers, reluctant heroes, hapless dreamers and desperate
individuals trying to make sense of the bittersweet circumstance they’ve been
handed. Indeed, Clark’s the archetypical
Everyman wrapped in alt-country trappings, a brilliant songwriter who’s both literate
and austere. The song titles best express the subdued sentiments – “Homeless,”
“Broken Hearted People,” “Desperados Waiting for a Train,” “She Ain’t Going
Nowhere” – each being a banner for some weary proverb.
To the producers’ credit, they match these
heart-wrenching ballads with singers who fully do them justice. Willie Nelson’s
settles comfortably into the forlorn optimism of “Desperados Waiting for a
Train,” while Shawn Camp’s “Homeless” is as gut-wrenching as the subject
implies. Joe Ely finds an ideal fit with the quiet reflection of “Dublin
Blues,” just as Radney Foster gently taps into the dampened defiance of “L.A.
Freeway.” Patty Griffin and Vince Gill deftly mine the tender trappings that
accompany two of Clark’s most evocative ballads – “The Cape” and “Randall’s
Knife, respectively – and in the process, make them their own.
Given this combination of tangled travails and
expressive voices, it’s hard to imagine any way these songs might be better
served. Except of course, if they were conveyed by the composer himself.
“Desperados Waiting for a Train,” “L.A. Freeway,” “Randall’s Knife” LEE