From Rodney Crowell’s first words kicking off the recording to Jerry Jeff Walker’s final note on the last track, This One’s For Him: A Tribute to Guy Clark is one of the finest releases to grace the music world in a long time. Maybe it’s because all the songs are written by a master storyteller who has inspired a generation of songwriters. Or perhaps it’s that every one of the 33 artists on the 30 tracks is an Americana treasure. And the production (by Tamara Saviano and Shawn Camp) and musicianship (by a house band that included Shawn Camp, Verlon Thompson, Jen Gunderman, Lloyd Maines, Glenn Fukunaga, Mike Bub, Glenn Worf, Kenny Malone and Larry Atamanuik) is flawless and inspiring. But the secret spice in this delicious mix is a profound sense of heart, love and appreciation for their mentor and friend, Guy Clark.
“Guy’s songs are literature,” says Lyle Lovett, among the venerable artists who eagerly gathered for This One’s For Him: A Tribute to Guy Clark. “The first time I heard Guy Clark, I thought it made everything I’d heard up to that point something other than a song. His ability to translate the emotional into the written word is extraordinary.”
Accordingly, Clark’s most vibrant (“Instant Coffee Blues”) and vivid vignettes (“Desperadoes Waiting for a Train”) reel with cinematic landscapes (“The Last Gunfighter Ballad,” “The Cape”). Novellas frequently unfold within minutes (“Better Days,” “She Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere”).
Clark’s singular storytelling chills with striking familiarity (“The Dark”). “Songs are like Japanese painting,” he explains. “Less is more. One brushstroke takes the place of many if you put it in the right place. I’m trying to get whoever is listening to think, ‘Oh, man, I was there. I did that. I know what that’s about.’ Too many details take away.” Clark’s add volumes. Remember that old blue shirt? Mad Dog margarita? June bug on the window screen?
Of course, our passions forever burn brighter for the flour sack cape. Few capture courage as timelessly. “Guy Clark is like a dancer with the way he talks and a photographer with the way he writes,” noted Texas indie artist Terri Hendrix says. “He’s the epitome of American songwriting.”
Clark’s watercolor imagery blueprints his legend, but generosity ultimately cements his legacy. For four decades, the longtime Nashville resident, whose own Grammy-nominated Somedays the Song Writes You (2009) soars as seamlessly as his hallmark debut Old No. 1 (1975), has cultivated songwriting talent enthusiastically. His matchless eye yields high dividends: Americana royalty Shawn Camp, Rodney Crowell, Steve Earle, Vince Gill and Lovett barely begin the list he’s given sea legs. Young writers today immediately earn credibility with his stamp.
“Guy is the king in a lot of ways,” says rising songwriter Hayes Carll, who has split pages in the storied basement workshop where Clark writes and builds guitars. “I think everybody who was around Guy learned a lot from him and I think the entire music world is indebted to him for what he taught other writers. Everybody who had a chance to learn from him came away a better writer. He gave me a shot before I deserved one.” As friends say, Clark’s a curator, a creative caretaker. He celebrates high watermarks that others achieve.
This One’s for Him: A Tribute to Guy Clark returns the favor. Artists brought two key instruments: a guitar and profound reverence. Individual investments quickly emerged. Perhaps most notably, Gill claims a haunting bond. “Giant tears were falling all over my guitar as we were playing,” the country star remembers about serving as guitarist on Clark’s original “Randall Knife” recording nearly 30 years ago. “My dad was a lawyer, and he died when I was 40. Guy and I are tied at the hip through that song.”
“Let’s give her a good go and make ol’ Guy proud of us…” said Rodney Crowell kicking off the collection on the first day as he readied to record “That Old Time Feeling.” From there folks mostly laughed throughout the sessions, swapped stories, enjoyed company, and picked and grinned like those dusky evenings at Guy’s in the 1970s. Fittingly, Crowell issued our collective mission statement the very first day. We think you’ll agree everyone succeeded.
1. That Old Time Feeling – Rodney Crowell
2. Anyhow I Love You – Lyle Lovett
3. All He Wants Is You – Shawn Colvin
4. Homeless – Shawn Camp
5. Broken Hearted People – Ron Sexsmith
6. Better Days – Rosanne Cash
7. Desperadoes Waiting For A Train – Willie Nelson
8. Baby Took A Limo To Memphis – Rosie Flores
9. Magdalene – Kevin Welch
10. Instant Coffee Blues – Suzy Bogguss
11. Homegrown Tomatoes – Ray Wylie Hubbard
12. Let Him Roll – John Townes Van Zandt II
13. The Guitar – Ramblin’ Jack Elliott
14. Cold Dog Soup – James McMurtry
15. Worry B Gone – Hayes Carll
1. Dublin Blues – Joe Ely
2. Magnolia Wind – Emmylou Harris & John Prine
3. The Last Gunfighter Ballad – Steve Earle
4. All Through Throwing Good Love After Bad – Verlon Thompson
5. The Dark – Terri Hendrix
6. LA Freeway – Radney Foster
7. The Cape – Patty Griffin
8. Hemingway’s Whiskey – Kris Kristofferson
9. Texas Cookin’ – Gary Nicholson, Darrell Scott & Tim O’Brien
10. Stuff That Works – Jack Ingram
11. Randall Knife – Vince Gill
12. Texas 1947 – Robert Earl Keen
13. Old Friends – Terry Allen
14. She Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere – The Trishas
15. My Favorite Picture of You – Jerry Jeff Walker