Guy Clark

Old No. 1

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Though Guy Clark recorded only two albums for RCA, the label was fortunate to have him at all at the beginning of his career. If only every country songwriter could release a debut album as auspicious and fine as this one. Houston's Guy Clark, well known to the outlaw movement for his poetic, stripped-to-the-truth songs about ramblers, history, the aged and infirm, the drunken, the lost, and the simple dignity of working people who confront the darkness and joy of life quietly, issued Old #1 when his compadres had already been making waves with his songs. Jerry Jeff Walker had already cut "L.A. Freeway" and other tunes by Clark, as had Gary Stewart, Billy Joe Shaver, and others. But the definitive versions come from Clark himself. On this disc with help from Emmylou Harris, fellow Houstoners (a young) Steve Earle and Rodney Crowell, guitar wizards Chip and Reggie Young, Mickey Raphael on harp, pianist David Briggs, fiddle boss Johnny Gimble, and the angel-voiced Sammi Smith, Clark executed a song cycle that is as intimate and immediate as it is quietly devastating with its vision of brokenness and melancholy, loose wild times, and unforgettable characters. The opener is the up-tempo Texas swing of "Rita Ballou," a woman out for all she can get and then some; the outlaw's statement of love's determination on "L.A. Freeway" to not get killed or caught; and the summation of so much of what is contained here and on the follow-up to this album, Texas Cookin', "That Old Time Feelin," which should be the new "Auld Lang Syne." Acoustic guitars dominate everything here. Old #1 is a quiet record because its songs don't need to be amplified; they speak for themselves in a straight, poetic, and powerful way. In addition to the above, two Clark classics are here as well, the amazing recollection "Desperadoes Waiting for a Train" and one of the most beautiful and confessional love songs ever written in any genre, "Like a Coat From the Cold." The most underrated track is an aural movie called "Instant Coffee Blues," where Clark's protagonist is a lonesome rambler, aimlessly hitchhiking his way to who knows where. He is picked up by a single working woman who is also on the wrong side of alone; they have an evening of companionship that has its share of intimacy and passion -- until morning when, "she just had to go to work/and he just had to go." The disc closes with "Let Him Roll," a snappy, laid-back observation about destiny having its own way at staying out of its way. Old #1 was unequaled in 1975 for the depth of its vision and the largeness of its artistic and empathetic heart; only Bruce Springsteen's Born to Run came close to it in terms of aesthetic merit.

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