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Boats to Build

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Album Review

Four years after the release of the tepid Old Friends, Guy Clark signed to the newly revitalized Elektra Asylum label seemingly dedicated to recording and marketing American roots music. Teaming once again with producer Miles Wilkinson, Clark delivered an ambitious, soulful, and state-of-the-art batch of songs. There is an all-star cast here, as per usual. Nonetheless Clark and Wilkinson solidified their vision, and here it works seamlessly, and virtually all of the musical arrangements and sounds serve the songs. Players and singers included Jerry Douglas, Sam Bush, Verlon Thompson, Foster & Lloyd, Marty Stuart, Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell, Suzy Ragsdale, Brian Ahern, and drummer Kenny Malone. The opener, a light country shuffle flavored with the blues entitled "Baton Rouge," is catchy in the same way that "Homegrown Tomatoes" was nine years earlier. The tile track, written with Thompson, is an intimate look at what goes on inside a man's mind when he works with his hands and the universe he encounters there. Douglas' slide guitar solo and the gorgeous Thompson harmonies deepen the impact. "Picasso's Mandolin," co-authored with Foster & Lloyd, is a lilting number with hand percussion, Bush's mandolin playing sad and sweet, and three-part harmonies by Clark with Foster & Lloyd. What strikes the listener in the first five tracks is how spare everything is, no matter how many or few instruments are on a given cut. Wilkinson sculpts the sound around Clark's stiletto fine lyrics. Perhaps this is best encountered on "Hey, Where'd You Get This Number." It's a humorous funky country tune with a quartet and no backing vocals, and Clark's wit sizzles in the mix, full of cruelty and irony. But it also comes through in the tender and moving "I Don't Love You Much Do I." Stuart's mandolin and Thompson's guitar wind around one another, framing Clark's creaking and elegant lyrics as he sings them in his usual slow, deliberate manner, getting every ounce of insight and emotion from the syllables. It took four more years to get another record out of Clark, but it's a winner all the way around.


Born: 06 November 1941 in Monahans, TX

Genre: Country

Years Active: '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Guy Clark didn't just write songs, he crafted them, with the kind of hands-on care and respect that a master carpenter (a favorite image of his) would when faced with a stack of rare hardwood. Clark worked slowly and with strict attention to detail -- he released only 13 studio albums in his 40-year career -- but he produced an impressive collection of timeless gems, leaving very little waste behind. His albums never met much commercial success, but the emotional level of his work consistently transcended...
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