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One Track Mind: Guy Clark – “Stuff That Works”

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In my hallowed opinion, it doesn't matter much what kind of music it is, if it's created and executed well, it's worth listening to. That's why you don't have to like crooners to appreciate Sinatra. Or get into reggae to respect Bob Marley. That's why even though I don't consider myself a fan of country music, I can still find a place in my rotation for guys like Guy. Guy Clark, that is.

Guy Clark comes from that branch of country music that's really at least equal parts folk and sometimes honky tonk but wholly Texan. He and his cohorts such as Jerry Jeff Walker and the late Townes Van Zandt have for a couple of generations written songs that stand up entirely on their own. They contain straightforward lyrics and simple melodies but have a way of staying with you long after the final note is played. They reach out to cowboys, folkies, and common people alike, telling engaging stories or just expressing the same kind of feelings we all get in our everyday lives. It's from this group that tunes like "Mr. Bojangles" and "Pancho And Lefty" come. Willie Nelson might also be considered part of this outlaw country gang, although we all know Willie is really in a class by himself.
Guy Clark 2

Clark has been on the scene as a leader for over 30 years, even more as a songwriter for others. He might not have any songs as widely known as, say, "Up Against The Wall Redneck Mother," but he's written plenty that others, better known than him, thought enough of to adopt for their own, like "L.A. Freeway," "Heartbroke," and "Oklahoma Borderline." But even some of Guy's lesser known songs are gems worthy of his legacy as a master songwriter.

One of those hidden gems that comes to my mind is "Stuff That Works." This composition is officially credited to both Clark and his long time colleague Rodney Crowell, but it's classic Clark all the way. From his 1995 release Dublin Blues, "Stuff" is one of the more quiet, introspective numbers in this collection.

I like jazz because when played right, the music is a joy to listen to closely. But so is this traditional sounding country tune. The acoustic guitar is very carefully picked with a just-right touch. Clark sings his vocals in a relaxed manner but full of conviction, and changes the singing to talking at the end of some lines for added sincerity. The lyrics flow out so effortlessly, you can finish some of his sentences. That compliment sounds almost back-handed but it isn't here; Clark doesn't want to get coy with you, he's telling you a story and you're going to remember what he said and how it feels.

For a song entirely about things he's sentimental over (from a old shirt to his lady), Clark avoids falling into that trap of being too syrupy. He gets his point across just fine by merely stating "that’s the kind of stuff I like to be around." He makes it look easy and too few can do that, at least consistently like he does. That's the mark of a master.

I can print the lyrics here but why bother? You will be able to follow along quite handily by listening to the sample below. And trust me, it will be a hell of a lot more enjoyable doing it that way, anyway.

So whether it's Sinatra, Marley, Mozart, or Clark, the high craftsmanship is evident in their music. Guy Clark just gets the job done with fewer tools.

Listen: Guy Clark "Stuff That Works"

"One Track Mind" is a weekly drool over a single song selected on a whim and a short thesis on why you should be drooling over it, too. Downloads are low quality rips available for only about a week.

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