The Best Of The Dualtone Years
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
By the time Guy Clark began his tenure with Dualtone Records, the veteran singer-songwriter had already improved upon the frenzied overproduction of his classic ’70s albums with his stripped-down, folk-based approach on mid-career classics like 1995’s Dublin Blues and 2002’s The Dark. But on his final four albums (three studio efforts and a live album) with the indie label, Clark sounded most like himself, at ease amongst the all-acoustic instrumentation and guitar accompaniment from longtime musical partner Verlon Thompson.
The Best Of The Dualtone Years mixes Clark’s most accomplished material from the late stages of his career with a smattering of live recordings of the songwriter’s signature songs like “Dublin Blues” and “L.A. Freeway.” The only non-Clark original is “If I Needed You, ” a nod to the songwriter’s tradition of including a Townes Van Zandt composition on most all of his albums.
The anthology abandons chronology in its presentation of Clark’s twilight material to great effect. The two respective disc openers, “Rain In Durango” and “Magdalene,” shine here as two of the finest songs of the songwriter’s career, while overlooked album cuts like the nostalgic “Tornado Time In Texas” and the border-waltz “El Coyote” are well-considered inclusions that anchor the album.
But the real treats are the three previously unreleased demos, which are every bit as sturdy in their composition and profound in their emotional gravity as most anything the notorious perfectionist ever released. “Just To Watch Maria Dance,” in particular, is stunning in its vivid imagery: “Greyhounds are for leaving, when all you’ve got is gone,” Clark sings, channeling the hopeful vagrancy of his 1975 classic “She Ain’t Going Nowhere.” “Born and broke, like a dozen eggs shattered on the lawn.”
Apart from several live recordings of older classics, which feel unnecessary on an album that highlights Clark’s late-career work, this collection is a testament to the spectacular consistency of quality and depth in Clark’s songwriting genius even as he struggled through declining health in his final decade.