Guy Clark's latest recording, The Dark (Sugar Hill), may be the singer-songwriter's best work yet. Like fellow Texan Steve Earle, Clark tackles themes and expresses views that challenge the good ol' boy machismo of C and W culture even as they celebrate its populist idealism. "Homeless," set to a funeral-march cadence, is a series of stark street-life vignettes linked together by a chorus--"Get away from here / Don't give 'em no money, they just spend it on beer"--that Clark spits out with caustic irony; in the antiwar parable "Soldier's Joy, 1864," a Civil War casualty endures a gruesome amputation by hacksaw. Clark's portrayals of women are refreshing: instead of Nashville's usual suffering saints and fallen angels, he gives us feisty heroines like Arizona Star, a "pre-Madonna prima donna / Part-time southern belle" who makes "'real' an oxymoron" and hangs out after hours with a sword-wielding girlfriend named George. The aging honky-tonk queen of "Dancin' Days" carries a pistol in her purse and remains determined to love and leave on her terms: "You can't fence her in with wire / You can't fence her in with words." But the title track captures Clark's redemptive vision most sharply. As the music reaches a crescendo, the singer stares into the night with mounting horror and exclaims, "How dark is it? / It's too dark for goblins!... / It's so dark you can smell the moon!... / It's so dark the wind gets lost!" But then, comforted by the sight of the city of Fort Worth in the distance, an image of light in the darkness, he regains his sanity. Friday, November 29, 7:30 and 10 PM, Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln; 773-728-6000.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Senor McGuire.