In the end, it doesn’t matter. Clark’s songs are high quality enough for just about anybody to perform and sound good.
Guy Clark is the pre-eminent Texas singer-songwriter. Along with his old friend Townes Van Zandt, Clark has influenced every Lone Star notable from Jerry Jeff Walker to Lyle Lovett to Willie Nelson to James McMurtry to Terry Allen to Ray Wylie Hubbard to Rosie Flores to Robert Earl Keen to Joe Ely to Terri Hendrix to Jack Ingram to Hayes Carll – all of whom appear on this tribute album. But Clark’s inspiration goes further than the state border. He’s been a guru to the likes of Steve Earle and Rodney Crowell, a colleague of Emmylou Harris, John Prine, Roseanne Cash, Vince Gill, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Kris Kristofferson, and Darrell Scott, all of whom also appear on this double CD. If the aforementioned names make you salivate in anticipation, you won’t be disappointed. All of the musicians take their job seriously. They cook up heapin’ helpings of fine Texas music, which is only proper as they pay homage to the man who wrote one of the best food songs ever written: “Texas Cooking”.
Darrell Scott sings it here, accompanied by Tim O’Brien and Gary Nicholson. They’ll get you droolin’ over such dishes that might not normally tempt you, such as armadillo, fried okra, and cabrito (baby goat). Clark’s lyrics make you happy just listening to the menu as you can almost hear the smile on his face as he sits down to eat. Scott and company pick and strum, but make sure the words are clear so you know what’s for dinner. Clark has written other Hemingwayesque songs about the simple pleasures of food and drink, including one called “Hemingway’s Whiskey”. Kristofferson takes that one on here, and the man known for having a limited vocal range does the song justice, as he phrases lines about the liquid as being “warm and smooth and mean / even when it burns / it’ll always finish clean” with a raw and thirsty feeling.
But Clark writes about more than comestibles. He writes bitter songs about life on the street (“Homeless”), surreal tall tales (“Cold Dog Soup”), historical ballads (“Texas, 1947”), stories about growing up (“The Cape”), the importance of friendship (“Old Friend”) about leaving the past behind (“L.A. Freeway“), smoking dope (“Worry B Gone“), the vagaries of romance (“All Through Throwing Good Love After Bad”), and about the generation that came before him (“Desperadoes Waiting for a Train”). All of these songs are wonderfully covered here by a talented cast of characters.
Clark recently celebrated his 70th birthday, and the years of drinking have taken a toll on his body. See the documentary Heartworn Highway for a look at his rowdy days in the past. He recently performed a benefit in rural Iowa to help build an amphitheatre in the town’s park. He had trouble walking and sometimes remembering the words to his songs, but when he sang and played (along with his sidekick, Verlon Thompson) there was magic in the air. The best thing to be said about this tribute album is that it, too, captures the magic of Clark’s music. While one can argue from song to song, who does it better – Clark or the other artist – and because Clark has been covered by artists on other records such as Johnny Cash, David Allen Coe, Ricky Skaggs, Brad Paisley, Alan Jackson and more, you cannot help but make mental comparisons. In the end, it doesn’t matter. Clark’s songs are high quality enough for just about anybody to perform and sound good. There’s not a bad track on this double disc collection.