When Guy Clark passed last year, it’s a fair bet that most of the written and on-air tributes would have focused on his early work with RCA and Warner, indeed in their list of his Top 12 essential songs, over 50% were from that period. It’s hard not to agree that his best and most consistent and best-known work as a songwriter came with the first three albums and songs like L.A. Freeway, The Last Gunfighter Ballad and Desperadoes Waiting For A Train.
That said, across a career that spanned 13 studio releases, very few could be described as not up to scratch, and his relaxed delivery could transform even an average piece of work. His last three albums were all released on Dualtone and ‘The Best of the Dualtone Years‘ double-CD collection cherry picks the best of that material, although, that said, five of the songs (The Cape, L.A. Freeway, The Randall Knife, Homegrown Tomatoes and Dublin Blues) are classics from earlier releases and appear here in live solo acoustic versions from the 2011 Songs and Stories album. That leaves 11 tracks from the three studio albums, kicking off with Rain In Durango, his voice raspingly dusty, from his final album, 2013’s My Favorite Picture of You. From it come three other numbers, the poignant memories of the title track, lilting Cornmeal Waltz and, in similar musical style, El Coyote. His label debut, Workbench Songs yields three cuts, Out In The Parkin’ Lot’s tale of a fist fight, the bluesy, fiddle-adorned Tornado Time In Texas and, best of the crop, the stained and grained romance of Magdalene.
Sandwiched in-between, Somedays The Song Writes You was easily the strongest, of the three studio album releases, much of it marking a return to the form of the early years, most notably on the weary, semi-drawled Hemingway’s Whiskey with its line “if it was bad enough for him, you know it’s bad enough for me.” From it, you also get the confessionally reflective Maybe I Can Paint Over That, The Guitar, a spooked Cash-like story-song about musical destiny, and his cover of Townes Van Zandt’s If I Needed You.
Although no dates are given, the three remaining numbers are all previously unreleased acoustic writer’s demos, Just To Watch Maria Dance, the ragged cowboy campfire The Last Hobo, co-penned with Hal Ketchum and featuring uncredited backing vocals and, a Marty Stuart co-write, a raw recording of Time with the vocals somewhat back in the mix.
After the first flush of acclaim, Guy Clark somewhat faded from the mainstream country spotlight, but, as this anthology ably demonstrates, his talent never dimmed.
Guy Clark: The Best of the Dualtone Years is Out Now