Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Guy Clark

  • Old No. 1 [RCA Victor, 1975] B+
  • The South Coast of Texas [Warner Bros., 1981] B
  • Greatest Hits [RCA Victor, 1983] B+
  • Boats to Build [Asylum, 1992] Neither
  • Keepers: A Live Recording [Sugar Hill, 1997] *
  • The Essential Guy Clark [RCA, 1997] ***
  • The Best of the Dualtone Years [Dualtone, 2017] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Old No. 1 [RCA Victor, 1975]
I liked Clark's laconic vocal presence at first, although I eventually began to feel that, like the agreeably glopless Nashville production, it flattened this material more than it deserved. Which says good things for the material. A must for would-be Texans and other Western mythos fans. Meaningful sex fans will also dig. B+

The South Coast of Texas [Warner Bros., 1981]
Clark is hardly the last surviving singer-songwriter, but so much of the competition has gotten into rock auteurism or pop demos that those who miss the old ways pay him more mind than they used to. This is his best since 1975's aptly titled Old No. 1. The "Rita Ballou" lets us know he's singing easier, and turns like "her breath's as sweet as chewing gum" and "the road to good intentions/Is paved with the fools that I've been" remind us of his vernacular knack. But only on "New Cut Road," real bluegrass canonfodder, does the music add meaning as well as tangibility. Which is why the competition is into rock auteurism and pop demos. B

Greatest Hits [RCA Victor, 1983]
My, here's a useful item--replaces three whole tracks from the just-this-minute-deleted Old No. 1, two of them bittersweet love-and-sex songs, with three newer Texas-mythos numbers. Very conceptual, but not exactly an improvement, and I even like two of the new ones: "Broken Hearted People," which is also a bittersweet love-and-sex song, and "Texas Cookin'." I also miss the bittersweet love-and-sex song "Instant Coffee Blues" very much. Maybe Texas-mythos types understand food better than outlaws--the man has written well about home-grown tomatoes. B+

Boats to Build [Asylum, 1992] Neither

Keepers: A Live Recording [Sugar Hill, 1997]
making the most of a legacy and an ad hoc band ("Homegrown Tomatoes," "Let Him Roll") *

The Essential Guy Clark [RCA, 1997]
Six of the seven or eight terrific songs on a compilation that equates "essential" with "everything on RCA" graced his 1975 debut, which it grieves me to report that I underrated back then, although I was right to skip the follow-up ("Instant Coffee Blues," "Texas 1947," "Let Him Roll") ***

The Best of the Dualtone Years [Dualtone, 2017]
Spurred by Steve Earle's stopgap tribute album to finally get a bead on this Texas-to-Nashville Americana legend/totem, a manifestly good guy who died at 74 in 2016, I was surprised to end up plighting my troth with this scant, late double-CD, 19 tracks including five deal-making live oldies and three unusually solid "unreleased writer demos." As indicated below, the RCA best-of falls off fast after a wham-bam start, and the most likely-looking of the Spotify playlists ignores the morning-after "Instant Coffee Blues," which along with the after-midnight "Out in the Parkin' Lot" stands as Clark's best song not counting "Homegrown Tomatoes." Although the young Clark sang better than Earle ever has, by his Dualtone sixties he was getting by on savvy and charm, which suffice. The live "L.A. Freeway" tacks on a story about his landlord that reminds me of how ready I was to leave my own North Hollywood garage apartment in 1971, four years before I ever heard of Guy Clark. Like a lot of this record, it makes me sorrier he's gone. A-