Saturday, November 22, 2008

Stuff That Works — Guy Clark (1995)

Great songwriting never goes out of style. That's why, when someone like Rodney Crowell is given the freedom to simply do what comes naturally, the Houston native crafts crackerjack Americana records like his latest Sex and Gasoline. This Joe Henry-produced disc has been on heavy rotation at Chez Bongo Jazz over the past six weeks; its humanity, (often black) humour and homespun wisdom replenish the soul while leaving a smile on your face. 

Oh, and it rocks, too.

There isn't a dud on the disc — Crowell's first in three years — and a handful of tracks rank with the best songs he's ever written. I'm particularly sweet on the final track, Closer to Heaven, in which the 58-year-old takes stock of what's important to him ... and, in an amusingly cantankerous way, what's not: 

"I don't like hummus/ I hate long lines/ Nosy neighbours and Venetian blinds/ Chirpy news anchors alter my mood/ I'm offended by buzzwords like 'awesome' and 'dude.' " 

Among his loves he lists: his wife and kids; biscuits and gravy; actress Sissy Spacek, and singer-songwriter Guy Clark. Have a listen:

Crowell, of course, has mined this seam before. Closer to Heaven is a close relative of today's post, Stuff That Works, a song Crowell co-wrote with fellow Texan Clark on the latter's must-own 1995 album, Dublin Blues. Like Closer to Heaven, Stuff That Works is a simple yet poignant celebration of the old and reliable over the new and shiny. At first, Clark sings of favourite shirts and boots and guitars but, in the final two verses, the song becomes about even more venerable stuff. Stuff like trust and loyalty and true love. "Stuff that's real/ Stuff you feel," sings Clark, "the kind of stuff you reach for when you fall."

It takes a man of a certain vintage to deliver a song like this with authority — perhaps explaining why Crowell felt he needed another 13 years to write one for himself.

Stuff That Works (link expired)

Here's a little more from Sex and Gasoline, the video for the title track. Lyrically, it's the photo negative of Closer to Heaven, as it skewers society's misplaced obsession with youth and beauty. There are a lot of laugh-out-loud lyrics in this one. My favourite: "You're over 30/ Why, you old hag!"

Buy Sex and Gasoline here

Buy Dublin Blues here

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