Reviewed by Henry L. Carrigan Jr.
Guy Clark has already written a lifetime of songs - Desperadoes Waiting for a Train
, L.A. Freeway
, Homegrown Tomatoes
, A Nickel for the Fiddler
- that have been recorded by folks from Rita Coolidge and Ricky Skaggs to Rodney Crowell. On his first studio album in four years, Clark, with his consummate artistry, paints more vivid word pictures on a broad canvas.
Joined by his long-time guitarist Verlon Thompson, as well as Bryn Davies on bass and cello, Shawn Camp on guitar, mandolin and banjo, and Morgane Stapleton on harmony, Clark delivers artful lyrics that probe life, love and loss.
The album opens with Cornmeal Waltz, an elegant and poignant tribute to a time when a Saturday night at the dancehall simply carried folks away: "There's nothing like listenin' to fiddles play/while doin' the Cornmeal Waltz/there's nothin' to keep you from driftin' away/doin' the Cornmeal Waltz." The guitars and mandolins fall like tears in Rain in Durango (co-written with Camp and Ray Stephenson), a tale of a young woman's - who "was hangin' with the pickers in the band/till her heart got broke by a banjo man/now she's had all the bluegrass she can stand" - search for love: "Standin' in the rain in Durango/right side of wrong, wrong side of gone/she's just waitin' on some cowboy to/lasso her heart and bring her home."
The gentle beauty of swaying guitars on El Coyote belies the singer's anger at the horror of the story of trucker who smuggled 18 Mexican workers over the Texas border and "left [them] to die/in the heat of the south Texas sun."
The title track is a tribute to Clark's late wife, Susanna, who died on June 27, 2012, and his creative partner. Co-written with Gordy Sampson, My Favorite Picture of You captures Clark's sadness, but also his deep love for his wife and celebrates her straightforward honesty and her blazing talent. "My favorite picture of you/is one where your wings are showin'...my favorite picture of you/is the one where you're starin' straight into the lens."
Clark's powerful poetry captures the details of everyday life, speaking wisely, wearily, lovingly to our hearts.