Music Review: Steve Earle & The Dukes – Guy (2019)

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30 March 2019 | James Porteous | Hawkins Bay Dispatch

Anyone hoping and/or praying an album of Guy Clark songs covered by Steve Earle would be a slice of heaven… Well, pop the cork.

The passing of singer/songwriter Guy Clark, who died in 2016, is still being mourned (and rightly so) but this collection will surely serve as a musical wake that will help fans move into a more permanent period of celebration.

It is of course fitting that Earle should put together this collection.

He first met Guy in Nashville in 1974 and according to Rolling Stone (Steve Earle Continues His Guy Clark Apprenticeship on Tribute Album) Earle joined Rodney Crowell, Emmylou Harris and Sammi Smith singing backing vocals on the original “Desperados Waiting for a Train.” Not a bad place to start, right?

Later Earle would record his first demo in Clark’s kitchen. “It was the same house that Townes died in,” says Earle in Rolling Stone many years later.

Of course Earle’s first ‘tribute’ album was the collection of Townes Van Zandt tunes called Townes.

During a recent concert prior to the release of Guy, Earle tells the audience: “I made a tribute to Townes about 10 years ago and I had to make this Guy record because I do not want to run into that motherfucker on the other side having made the Townes record and not made his.”

Earle has officially earned a VIP pass, no matter where the two might meet up in the future.

guy-clarks-kitchen-2
Rodney Crowell, Susanna Clark, and Guy Clark

Clark was always known as a true songwriter’s-songwriter. His lyrics combine the sardonic wit of Irving Berlin and the compact Americana narratives of John Steinbeck.

In the early days his songs would simply pop up here or there and every now and again you might run across a new (or old) album and it was like finding a piece of gold, a new set of lyrics which would be dutifully studied and studied again in the hopes of shedding some sort of light on this elusive being.

There were no guides or reference points to help you make sense of these new and exciting worlds, like this one in Baton Rouge

It was a Texas girl that broke my heart
Then she tore my truck apart
Hey, I guess I’ll get me another in Baton Rouge
I like craw fish, I like rice
An’ I like girls that treat you nice
Hey, I’m going to find me one in Baton Rouge

But you knew, upon hearing a Clark song, whether for the first time or the 100th time, whether sung by him or covered by someone else, that you had entered a world where the finest details would be magnified and glorified to the point that the vision would remain with you for the rest of your days.

Steve-Earle-Dukes
Steve Earle & the Dukes

Desperados Waiting For A Train:

He’s a drifter and a driller of oil wells
And an old school man of the world
He let me drive his car
When he’s too drunk to
And he’d wink and give me money for the girls
And our lives were like some old western movie

Like desperados waitin’ for a train
Like desperados waitin’ for a train

Once you had the pleasure of meeting the drifter, once you had seen the portrait painted in exquisite Guy-detail, you would never forget him.

In Dublin Blues, the opening track on this collection, he sings:

Forgive me all my anger
Forgive me all my faults
There’s no need to forgive me
For thinking what I thought
I loved you from the git go
I’ll love you till I die
I loved you on the Spanish steps
The day you said goodbye

Now that is the chorus.

 

Steve Earle & The Dukes – “Dublin Blues” [Audio Only]

On L.A. Freeway he sings:

Make note of all good wishes
Say goodbye to the landlord for me
Sons-a-bitches always bore me
And throw out all those L.A. papers
And the moldy box of Vanilla Wafers
Adios to all this concrete
Gonna get me some dirt road back streets

If I can just get off of this L.A. freeway
Without getting killed or caught
I’ll be down the road in a cloud of smoke
To some land I ain’t bought bought bought

I am also personally pleased that That Old Time Feeling has also been included here. I remember reading long ago that Clark had said that this was the first song he had written that he kept, and it was coincidently one of the first songs I learned to play on the guitar. It was no great feat on my end, but how I did (and still do) love trying to capture his passion:

That old time feeling,  plays for beer in bars
Like and old blues time picker, who don’t recall who you are
Oh, and that old time feeling, limps through the night on a crutch
Like an old soldier, wondering if he’s paid too much
And that old time feeling, rocks and spits, and cries
Like and old lover, remembering the girl with the clear blue eyes

Earle and band have given these songs a new life, but they could be said to be stand-alone versions. You can listen to these and not find yourself longing to hear the original.

Having said that, it is immensely pleasing to play Guy’s version of  That Old Time Feeling, for example, with its subtle shine like diamond sheen and then hear Earle’s barroom brawl version on the same song. Each seems to tell us so much about the respective artists. And back again. From Clark to Earle and back again.

That Townes – Earle – Clark had formed such an important songwriting troika may not have been known in full when they were all alive, but it is certain that one or both would have or could have recorded a ‘tribute’ album of Earle Songs at some point.

Or as Townes says in To Live is to Fly, a song recorded by all three at various times:

Goodbye to all my friends
It’s time to go again
Think of all the poetry
And the pickin’ down the line
I’ll miss the system here
The bottom’s low
And the treble’s clear
But it don’t pay to think to much
On things you leave behind.
I will be gone
But it won’t be long
I will be a’bringin’ back the melodies
And rhythm that I find
We all got holes to fill
Them holes are all that’s real.
Some fall on you like a storm,
Sometimes you dig your own.
The choice is yours to make,
Time is yours to take;
Some sail upon/dive into the sea,
Some toil upon the stone.
To live is to fly
Low and high,
So shake the dust off of your wings
And the sleep out of your eyes;

 

Artist Credit
Jo Harvey Allen Vocals
Lance Allen Assistant Engineer
Terry Allen Back Cover, Vocals
Tom Bejgrowicz Art Direction, Design, Layout, Photography
Kim Buie A&R
Todd Burman Crew
Shawn Camp Composer, Guitar (Acoustic), Mandolin, Vocals
Guy Clark Composer
Susanna Clark Composer
Rodney Crowell Vocals
Brian Denny Crew
Richard Dobson Composer
Steve Earle Primary Artist
Steve Earle Guitar, Liner Notes, Mandolin, Producer, Vocals
Steve Earle & the Dukes Primary Artist
Tony Fitzpatrick Cover Art
Emmylou Harris Vocals
Joseph Holguin Assistant
Ricky Ray Jackson Group Member, Pedal Steel Guitar, Vocals
Ray Kennedy Engineer, Mastering, Mixing
Kelly Looney Bass, Group Member
Chris Masterson Group Member, Guitar, Vocals
Jim McGuire Dobro
Mike Melnyck Photography
Gary Nicholson Guitar (Acoustic), Vocals
Brad Pemberton Drums, Group Member, Percussion
Tyler Porch Crew
Mickey Raphael Harmonica
Jacob Sciba Engineer
James Scott Composer
Verlon Thompson Guitar (Acoustic), Vocals
Twangtrust Producer
Kevin Varnado Crew
Jerry Jeff Walker Vocals
Eleanor Whitmore Fiddle, Group Member, Guitar (Tenor), Mandolin, Vocals
Reggie Winston Crew

 

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James Porteous

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