This One’s For Him: A Tribute to Guy Clark
At the Austin lovefest staged in November for Guy Clark’s 70th birthday, more than half of the 30-some artists included on the album This One’s For Him: A Tribute To Guy Clark showed up to pay homage to their songwriting hero.
“I’ve known Guy 40 years,” Rodney Crowell said. “I’m still shooting to reach the bar Guy set.”
Added Lyle Lovett: “I wouldn’t be anywhere if it weren’t for Guy Clark.”
Radney Foster admitted, “‘L.A. Freeway’ was one of the first songs I was learning how to play when I was 14 or 15 and tryin’ to write songs, and I just thought that if I could ever write a line as beautiful as ‘love’s a gift that’s surely handmade,’ than I would have accomplished something.” They watched and listened intently backstage as their fellow acolytes played, still awed by these tunes even after years of holding them close to their hearts. As Foster finished singing, Joe Ely said, “That song paints as good a picture of L.A. right this minute as it did when it was written 35 years ago. There’s very few songs that are as indelible as that.”
Actually, all of the performers involved have written their share of timeless verse. But maybe it comes down to Clark’s “wisdom and grit” – words used to describe his music in a proclamation from the Texas governor.
In Clark’s home state, known for turning out top-notch songwriters, wisdom and grit go a long way. But his shadow also shades his adopted Nashville skyline – and far beyond. His word-wrangling acumen seems as tall as Everest; it’s as if he has some special power to lasso them together and herd them into lines of rare and stunning beauty, like rows of wild horses galloping across a prairie just for the joy of running.
And yet, this tribute may do a better job of conveying Clark’s power than his own recordings. Not only did co-producers Tamara Saviano and Shawn Camp masterfully match artists to songs, they coaxed forth deliveries that make us understand why these songs still matter. Each performer gives full emphasis to the craft involved, the meanings of each phrase and the unfolding stories within. With nearly faultless accompaniment by Camp, Verlon Thompson, Jen Gunderman and often, Lloyd Maines, along with others, they pull off the difficult task of making these songs their own.
Lyle Lovett’s nuanced cragginess and Patty Griffin’s close harmony on “Anyhow, I Love You” are so gorgeous, the song almost demands instant replay. Shawn Colvin’s slightly smoky, sexy take on “All He Wants Is You” is so convincing, it makes you wonder how a guy could even sing this one, much less how Guy wrote it (with Patrick Davis). But that’s what great writing does – it lets you inhabit any persona for the sake of the song.
Kevin Welch – one of the most underrated singer-songwriters around – turns “Magdalene” into a simultaneous lament and love song, carrying whispers of weariness and almost-lost hope. Camp’s dobro enhances desperation, despair and longing – and the persistence of “maybe.”
With the simple line, “Him, he hit the driveway with his feelings in a case/and her she hit the stoplight and touched up her face,” Suzy Bogguss drives home the loneliness of one-night-stands in “Instant Coffee Blues.” On “The Guitar,” Ramblin’ Jack Elliott builds the powerful narrative, then nails you to the floor with that sucker-punch ending that still stuns, even if you’ve heard it repeatedly.
Jack Ingram gives “Stuff That Works” emotional depth, without deleting its humor. Willie Nelson opens up on “Desperadoes Waiting For A Train,” providing the unhurried approach it deserves – and the wisdom of age it commands. Hayes Carll turns “Worry B Gone” into the ultimate stoner tune; Gary Nicholson, Darrell Scott and Tim O’Brien fuel “Texas Cookin’” with happy gospel. Fittingly, Jerry Jeff Walker closes the album with a new Clark composition, “My Favorite Picture Of You.”
During the show, someone in the audience shouted, “Mr. Clark, you are a treasure!” Indeed, that’s another great aspect of this tribute: He’s still around to appreciate it – and give us more.