With the deaths of such prominent artists as Prince and Leonard Cohen making headlines in 2016, you may have missed the fact that we also lost the great Guy Clark, who passed away in May. He crafted cogent, plainspoken, memorable lyrics about everything from hard-living drifters to homegrown tomatoes, and his songs have been covered by such artists as Johnny Cash, Ricky Skaggs, and Willie Nelson. But he will also be remembered as a fine performer whose weathered vocals conveyed emotion and authenticity.
The Best of the Dualtone Years, due out in March, is not the career-spanning box set that Clark deserves, but it is first-rate. Dominating the two-CD collection are 11 tracks from Clark’s three final studio albums, all of which earned Grammy nominations and one of which (2012’s My Favorite Picture of You) won. The anthology includes such gems as “Magdalene,” a tale that Joe Ely recently covered, about a man who has to skip town on the midnight Greyhound that Joe Ely recently covered; and “Maybe I Can Paint Over That,” in which the singer confesses to a series of sins, musing that “maybe I can paint over that, but it’ll probably bleed through . . . I can’t hide it from you.”
Also here are three previously unreleased demo tracks and five performances from a 2011 live CD, including the aforementioned “Homegrown Tomatoes,” which shows off Clark’s humor and his ability to make a good song out of almost any topic; and the partially autobiographical “L.A. Freeway,” a hit for Jerry Jeff Walker that probably ranks as Clark’s most famous song thanks largely to its terrific evocative lyrics: “Pack up all your dishes / Make note of all good wishes / Say goodbye to the landlord for me/That sum-bitch has always bored me,” Clark begins. And then: “If I can just get off of that L.A. Freeway / Without getting killed or caught . . .”
As noted earlier, Clark deserves a much more comprehensive look at his work. And in fact, this two-CD set could have been more expansive itself, since it fits only about 79 minutes of music onto discs that could have held nearly twice as much. (Thankfully, it is priced like a single CD.) That said, there’s nothing here but fine performances that will send you off in search of more.