Guy Clark,
Cold Dog Soup
(Sugar Hill, 1999)

Guy Clark has always been in favor with the critics, but even after almost three decades he's not exactly become a household name with the public. Although many may have heard his composition "Desperado's Waiting for a Train," only too few will have heard his own version. He's made several albums and although not all of them are of the same high standard, one thing remains the same: he's never made a truly bad album. And this album proves to be one his best efforts ever. It's as if he's no longer lamenting about not having found stardom, having become quite satisfied with his left-of-the-center status. And Guy Clark is definitely one of those artists that make better music when they are at ease with life.

For his latest release, Cold Dog Soup, Clark decided to go for the down-to-earth approach. He invited a bunch of friends into the studio, sat down with them and started playing, back to the roots with a live-in-studio touch. The setting was a very intimate affair -- basically, it was the trio of Guy Clark and Verlon Thompson, both on guitars, and Darrell Scott, responsible for the mandolins. Later on overdubs were added for nine of the twelve songs -- a dobro here, an accordion there. After all, they can only play one instrument at a time. The only "outsider" of note for the overdubs is Emmylou Harris, who lends her angelic harmony vocals on three of the tunes.

The CD gains a big deal from this relaxed atmosphere; you could say that the more easygoing the recording process is, the better Guy Clark becomes. This record is not meant to be perfect, it's meant to represent other things like the fun that music can bring to people, whether they are playing it or listening to it. And fun they must have had, as proven by the laughter left in the recording of "Sis Draper." It suits the light tone of this tune.

In the poignant title track, "Cold Dog Soup," Clark sings about Townes Van Zandt, but he certainly is also singing about himself: ''Ain't no money in poetry / That's what sets the poet free / I've had all the freedom I can stand.'' Steve Earle's "Forth Worth Blues," one of the three songs not written or co-written by Clark, is another highlight, simple and touching. There's a wonderful arrangement on "Water Under The Bridge," a perfect counterbalance to Clark's husky voice. "Die Tryin'" is a reminder that life only becomes worthwhile with a little effort. This one has a special flavour with Verlon Thompson playing a National resonator guitar.

This is another excellent CD by Guy Clark, and his fans will have expected no less than that. The music has too many rough edges to make the man famous with your average country music lover, but his songs will continue to attract others to cover them. And thus spreading the word. Clark remains what he always was, a diamond in the rough.

[ by Michael Gasser ]

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