REVIEW: Steve Earle’s “Guy” Carries Rawness of Wounds Not Quite Healed

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On March 29th Steve Earle and New West Records will release Guy, Earle’s collection of Guy Clark songs. This new release follows his 2009 collection of Townes Van Zandt songs, “Townes.” Very few would be able to pull it off, releasing an album completely comprised of covers of one of the most legendary and beloved singer-songwriters of all time. Then, do it all over again, with another album featuring another legend and beloved songwriter’s songs. It’s a bold move. But, few have ever regarded Steve Earle to be timid.

These songs, much like the Townes collection, are interpretations based upon the originals. They capture different nuances, while remaining poignant and strangely true to the originals. There are different inflections and timings, and the emotions captured here carry with them a rawness of wounds not quite healed. Some may not appreciate the differences, but I for one welcome them. To me, they prove the depth of sincerity, the love and respect for the teachers, but the necessity of being true to oneself. If that doesn’t sum up Steve Earle, I’m not sure what will.

When he sings, “They all called me side-kick,” there’s an honest sincerity that is present that really no one else could muster. Earle learned much of his songwriting prowess from Clark and Van Zandt. During the final date of Earle’s 30th anniversary “Copperhead Road” tour, he told the Tower Theatre audience in Oklahoma City that he was releasing this collection of Guy Clark songs with the amusing anecdote “I couldn’t not do this record. I didn’t want to run into that motherf@#ker on the other side if I had released an album of Townes songs, but not one of his.” So, here it is. Produced by Earle and Ray Kennedy, and joined by the Dukes; Kelley Looney on bass, Ricky Ray Jackson on pedal steel, Brad Pemberton on drums and The Mastersons, Chris Masterson on guitar and Eleanor Whitmore on fiddle/mandolin.

Earle’s choice of songs are about as complete a representation of Clark’s songbook as one could do. The obvious “best of” tracks are all here. “L.A. Freeway,” “The Randall Knife,” and “Dublin Blues.” Where Earle really digs in and shines though are the deeper cuts he chose. “The Last Gunfighter,” “Anyhow I Love You,” “New Cut Road” and “Sis Draper.” Perhaps these are not obscure tracks for longtime Clark fans, but for many they may be regarded as deeper cuts. Regardless, Earle makes them shine brighter than Black Diamond strings and fresher than homegrown tomatoes.

“Old Friends” might be the emotional pinnacle of the 16 tracks on the album. With guest vocals from Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell, Terry Allen, and Jerry Jeff Walker, it’s a definite standout. Other Clark friends and collaborators guesting on the album include, Mickey Raphael, Verlon Thompson, Sean Camp and Gary Nicholson. Truly a collection of Old Friends indeed. This is as fine a tribute as Earle or anyone else could have rendered. While I highly recommend Guy as a companion piece, I would also encourage anyone unfamiliar with Clark’s lifework to dive into the originals and treat yourself to a true songwriting maestro.

More information and purchasing options for Steve Earle’s Guy can be found here:

 

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