Two of the best songwriters Texas ever produced released records this year. Willie Nelson’s “Let Face the Music and Dance” came out in April. Guy Clark’s “My Favorite Picture of You” drops today. Both artists take a look back with fondness. One honors music of a by-gone era. The other honors his lady love.
Nelson and Family laid down tracks for “Let’s Face the Music and Dance” in the Pedernales Studio in Austin. It was produced by Butch Carr of Nashville.
The “family” includes sister Bobbie on piano, drummer Paul English, Mickey Raphael on harmonica, Billy English on gut string and snare drum, Kevin Smith on upright bass, Jim “Moose” Brown on B-3 organ, with Willie’s son, Michah, adding percussion on several cuts.
According to a press release, this record is one of the first releases “in a historic record deal between Willie Nelson and Legacy Recordings, the catalog division of Sony Music Entertainment.” Nelson recorded his monumental record “Red Headed Stranger” for Sony in 1975.
“I’m really happy to be back home with Sony Music,” Nelson said in the release. “We share a great history and I’m looking forward to many more years together.”
Nelson, 80, looks to songwriters like Irving Berlin, Mack Gordon, Carl Perkins and Spade Cooley for inspiration, including the title cut, “You’ll Never Know,” “Matchbox,” and “Shame On You,” sliding in out and out of the lyrics as only he can.
One of the standouts is “Twilight Time,” performed in a slow, easy tempo, with Nelson’s rich baritone floating over a the simple arrangement. Close your eyes and the band will take you to last call at a smoky bar, with cowboys and cowgirls circling the dance floor in a dreamy haze.
Another memorable moment is the jazzy cover of Django Reinhardt’s instrumental “Nuages,” which was originally recorded in 1940. Several members of the band get to highlight their skills. Nelson shows off his picking on his well-traveled guitar, Trigger, while Raphel’s harmonica provides an extra dose of mellowness. Bobbie gets a turn, too, on the keyboard. In the video, Nelson lights up a fat one during his sister’s solo and rests in an ashtray as he brings the song to an end. As I said, only Willie could pull this off and look utterly cool doing it.
Legendary songwriter Guy Clark lost his wife, Susanna, last summer after a lengthy illness, so it’s fitting that his new record, “My Favorite Picture of You,” overflows with melancholy, from the first cut, “Cornmeal Waltz,” to the last note of “I’ll Show Me.”
The title song of the new record was born from a photo Clark, 71, has tacked to the wall of his basement studio in their Nashville home.
“That was always my favorite picture of Susanna, probably 30 years ago,” he said in a press release. “Me and Townes are in that house, just drunk . . . jerks. And she’d had enough, she walked out that front door. . . . The lyrics just poured out because it all it boiled down to was describing the picture.”
Jerry Jeff Walker covered the song on “This One’s For Him,” a 2-CD set of Clark’s tunes, released last year. Walker gave the arrangement a smooth, polished treatment, but Clark’s version is pared down to a guitar and mandolin, and – borrowing from the lyrics – all I hear is “beautiful.”
In keeping with the feel of the record, Clark kills off one of his more memorable characters, fiddle player Sis Draper.
Now some ole’ gal with cold back eyes was in a jealous tiff
She was quite sure her man was slipping around with Sis
She was a waitress at the El Patron out on the edge of town
She poisoned Sis’ whiskey and Sis just drank it down.
Clark’s recording of Lyle Lovett’s “Waltzing Fool” is remarkable because it’s the only cover on the record, making it the first Clark release in years that hasn’t included a Townes Van Zandt song. Van Zandt and Clark came up together in the music business during the 1970s, traveling the coffee house circuit together.
Van Zandt and Susanna were best friends. Van Zandt died Jan. 1, 1997.
In a recent Austin Chronicle article, Clark says, “The big thing that really happened to her, that put her over the edge, was Townes dying. God, they were just so close, and I don't think she ever got over it.”
Maybe recording the 11 songs on this album will help Clark get through Susanna’s passing. There is a lifetime in every lyric. The simplicity is misleading – and mesmerizing. As always, Clark makes the impossible seem so dadgum easy.
To watch a video of "Nuages," click here.
For a clip of Guy Clark performing "My Favorite Picture of You," click here.
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