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Cowboy Jack Clement

Guess Things Happen That Way – 2004 (Dualtone)

Reviewed by Ken Burke

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CDs by Cowboy Jack Clement

Although not in the same league vocally as past associates Johnny Cash, Charley Pride, Waylon Jennings and Don Williams, 73 year-old producer/songwriter Jack Clement one-ups most of them on the score of imaginative song selection and simple evocative production chops.

Clement's vocals are sometimes craggy and pitchy, yet his melodic old-timey baritone often proves charming. This is especially true of the absurdly humorous polka-tinged "Drinking Carrot Juice" and scatting Dixieland of "Leavin' Is The Lovin' Thing To Do." Moreover, only Cowboy Jack could sell such a surreal, eccentric ditty as "Off To Join The World," wherein a jilted lover vows to run away from the "cruel circus." Not content to stick with his own material, Clement's cover song choices - notably a country boogie version "No Expectations" (Rolling Stones) and a countrypolitan reading of "Dreaming My Dreams With You" (Waylon Jennings) - are surprisingly novel and fresh.

However, the disc's undisputed highlight occurs when Johnny Cash offers vocal counterpoint to Clement's melancholy renditions of "Guess Things Happen That Way" and "Ballad of a Teenage Queen." Weak, yet instantly recognizable, the Man in Black seems to speak from the grave during these poignant renditions of their respective Sun-era hits. The result is a blend of ethereal mood and creative courage that longtime fans of both men will surely savor.