Guy Clark builds guitars in his basement. This hideaway beneath his Texas home is also where he crafts the dusty, country melodies revered (and covered) by everyone in the field, from Willie Nelson to Vince Gill. It’s the same place his new album, The Dark took shape, a stunning collection of songs each demonstrating just why Clark is known as the “Songbuilder”.
It makes a lot of sense that the songs on The Dark, Clark’s first album since 1999’s Cold Dog Soup, were written in a basement. The entire album has a hidden, tucked away feel, one best listened to when alone, away from the rigors of the world, so the listener can sit back and let Clark take them in to his little part of the world, where freedom and the joy of nature are as uplifting as loneliness and despair.
Clark’s lyrics are simple, yet filled with enchanting wisdom. His ability to carve heartfelt, poignant odes to everything from love to horses is unprecedented with his cigarette-stained voice also simple, soft and assured. One minute Clark can send you on a journey into the wildwoods of Arizona before bringing you back down to Earth with a song describing how good it feels to stick your feet in mud.
Some of the lyrical highlights on The Dark include the lost affection of “Magnolia Wind” (“If I can dance with you / Then I won’t dance at all / I’ll just sit this one out / With my back to the wall”), and the rousing “Dancin’ Days” (“Some of her dancin’ days are over / Some of her dancin’ days are done / But she’s still got a couple of two-steps / She ain’t shown no-one”).
Clark’s take on street urchins, the eerie “Homeless” written with Ray Stevenson is up there too, based on Stevenson’s real life experience: “Cardboard sign / Old and bent / Says ‘friend for life — 25 cents’ / When did this start makin’ sense / Man, it’s really gettin’ cold / Sometimes I forget things / I could still be workin’ but they refuse / Now I’m livin’ with the bombs and the whores and the abused / Man, I hate gettin’ old”, Clark sings, beautifully bringing to life the struggle of those less fortunate (“She’s way past complainin’ / She sings a heartfelt melody / One that begs for harmony / It’s not what she thought it’d be / But hey it could be rainin'”) and the cynical public reaction to the problem (“Homeless / Get away from here / Don’t give ’em no money / They’ll just spend it on beer”) before sharing his own sympathies (“Life ain’t easy / It takes work / It takes healin’ / Cause you’re gonna get hurt . . . Lose your way sometime / You never really have control / Sometimes you gotta let it go / When the final line unfolds / It don’t always rhyme”).
Always sincere and poetic, the remaining songs on The Dark share such intense passion whether Clark is singing about getting old (“He says he’s lost his mind / But he’s just runnin’ out of time / He said this old bag of bones ain’t really me”), a murdered dog (“Some S.O.B. shot my dog / I found her under a tree / You son of a bitch / I’m goin’ tell you what / I will not be deterred / I’ll find you out and track you down / On that you have my word”) or the effort it takes just live each day (“In the dark you can sometimes hear your own heartbeat / Or the heart of the one next to you / The house settles down after holding itself up all day”).
This final song on the album is indicative of Clark’s style on The Dark, which rests deep inside country music’s heart. He sings about the simple truths that come with surviving and does it well backed by fiddles, guitars and violins.
It really is satisfying to know that while modern country music continues to lose its edge by slipping further into the realms of pop, with Guy Clark around purists need not despair. Faith Hill can have her silky sheets and platinum blonde hair, and Shania Twain can keep her “impressions”, for as long as Clark keeps spinning his lasso down in that basement, we’re gonna be okay.