Since his 1975 debut, "Old No. 1," singer-songwriter Guy Clark has directly accumulated admiring followers with his honest, storytelling songs.
Indirectly, he's touched millions of ears with a laundry list of country's top artists who have recorded his songs. In recent years, he was inducted in to the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame and handed a Lifetime Achievement award from the Americana Association.
Guy Clark turns 70 in November, yet he shows no sign of retirement. He tours frequently and continues to release relevant and influential music, receiving two Grammy nominations in the past five years. The Texas troubadour's new live album, "Songs and Stories," released in August on Dualtone, is a sterling snapshot of Clark and his cohorts in the present.
"Songs and Stories" features some of Clark's best work, along with stories and asides about the songs. Recorded at Nashville's historic Belcourt Theatre, the one-time home to the Grand Ole Opry, the album is incredibly intimate. The recording is so pristine, one can easily imagine sitting on the stage with Clark and friends. The delivery is personable enough that the listener might even remove oneself to a front porch full of guys just playing music and trading tales.
Clark opens "Songs and Stories" like a gentleman, introducing his band, which includes percussionist Kenny Malone, bassist Bryn Davies, guitarist and vocalist Verlon Thompson and guitarist, mandolin player and vocalist Shawn Camp. Thompson, a longtime collaborator, and Camp, his protégé, soon prove to be essential to Clark's presentation.
The album's songs span from Clarke's first album to 2009's "Sometimes the Song Writes You." "L.A. Freeway" sprawls the first several minutes with Clark's story inset within the song, the only time this is done on the album. The tale - Clark and his wife hitting the road to escape from a "weird place" after their strange landlord chops down a beloved grapefruit tree in the yard - offers an insight into foundation of Clark's songs: An appreciation for the simple things in life.
The next number, the more recent "Maybe I Can Paint Over That," is prefaced by Clark, telling the audience that sometimes songs just jump out. Written one afternoon when he, Thompson and Camp were just picking and talking, Clark and crew's performance of the song is just as brazen as its lyrics.
Clark's one cover of the album is Townes Van Zandt's "If I Needed You." Clark casually tells the audience his friend "couldn't be here this evening" and proceeds to give some background to the song, which Van Zandt claimed to have written in his sleep. Clark's heartfelt reflection is a treat to anyone familiar with late singer-songwriter.
Clark is just as gracious of his time with friends Camp and Thompson. He steps aside mid-album, allowing each to assume lead position on the stage. Camp stuns in "Magnolia Wind," which he co-wrote with Clark for 2002's "The Dark." Thompson uses his time to present two of his personal compositions, one of which was inspired by conversation with Clark. His story, "I'm From Greasy Bend" and the connected song, "Darweittia's Mandolin" is the most amusing and comical moment of the album.
Clark's absence during this section of the album, while serving as a nod of thanks to the men who have been intertwined in Clark's career for the past several years, is also a recognition of his limits.
It may be possible that some people are put off by the fact Clark sits out on four songs, but really, Camp and Thompson's songs couldn't be more appropriate. In words and performance, both men exude an extreme gratitude toward Clark that enhances the concert experience and makes the listener more aware of his seminal influence.
Clark's pace is more relaxed on "Songs and Stories," and his voice is worn, but the quality of his performance remains superlative. His vocal imperfections are as forthright as his songwriting.
Straining or trying to cover age is just not acceptable for Clark; he's always going to deliver as is. Clark remains genuine in every aspect possible, further cementing his position as one of America's greatest singer-songwriters.
Guy Clark is online at http://www.guyclark.com.