Calling music “classic” means it’s of the past. “Classical” means Beethoven and Mozart. “Classic rock” means rock from a specific period from the late 1960s to the late 1970s. And “classic soul” means artists like Otis Redding, The Temptations, Aretha Franklin.
But when it comes to classic soul, there’s something a lot of people may not know: it’s alive and well. Artists like W. C. Clark, who’s been called (although I’m not sure by whom) “The Godfather of Austin Blues,” are still making classic soul records. But to find those records you have to look under “blues,” because even people who don’t listen to much blues seem to know that it (the blues, that is) is still a living style. As a genre, the blues isn’t “classic.” It’s of the past, but of the present and future too.
The Houston Chronicle was right to call W. C. Clark “a powerful and poignant soul man with hard-earned blues wisdom.” A few of the songs on his new CD hark back to B. B. King’s polished blues style (“Cold Blooded Lover, “Twist of the Knife,” “My Texas Home”) swampy blues (“Ain’t Lost Nothing”), even Western Swing (“Okie Dokee Stomp”). But by and large this is sweet soul music of which famous greats like Sam Cooke and Etta James would be proud.
I don’t mention Sam Cooke lightly; Clark achieves something like Cooke’s poignancy in his slower numbers, like the John Hiatt-penned “Tip of My Tongue.” “I Didn’t Know the Meaning of Pain” and Clark’s original “Jaded Lady,” on the other hand, unabashedly evoke the hits Isaac Hayes wrote for Sam and Dave. And in the slow blues “My Texas Home” Clark gives a clinic in passionate vocalizing.
Pointing out individual songs on this CD isn’t too useful, though. Some are more memorable than others, but the whole CD is a great listen, chock full of Austin (via Memphis) soul.
Oh, and his guitar leads are nothing to sneeze at either.
I’m glad that this artist who has worked with so many greats (Joe Tex, Marcia Ball and Stevie Ray Vaughan to name a few) is getting increasing recognition outside Austin. Soul music is alive and well. No “neo-” prefix is needed.