Record of the Week

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My Favorite Picture of You

My Favorite Picture of You

As a young man, Guy Clark made his name as an edgy, new-breed country songwriter along with the likes of Townes Van Zandt and Mickey Newbury. Now 71, he’s taken on the mantle of lion in winter.

My Favorite Picture of You is a finely wrought, late-in-the-day statement. The centerpiece is the title track written for his wife, Susanna, who died in 2012. On the album cover, Clark holds a Polaroid of her as a young woman. The song is a shattering ode to that photo and all it represents: the good times, the bad times, and the woman who stuck with him through it all.

Clark displays a deep social conscience in several songs. The bright Tex-Mex melody of “El Coyote” belies the darker story at its heart: undocumented Mexican workers exploited and abandoned by the “coyote” they’ve paid to smuggle them across the border. “Heroes” spotlights a damaged Iraq War veteran after they’ve come home. Employing old-school country recitation, Clark tells the story of a scarred young man going off the rails: “A silver star and a pistol in a drawer/The morphine just ain’t workin’ no more.” Like John Prine’s classic “Sam Stone,” “Heroes” cuts with scalpel precision, focusing on the raw specifics of one soldier’s story.

The singer’s songs are built on mournful cello, quietly burbling banjo, sweet fiddles, and warm acoustic guitars. Melodies are memorable and winning. But the lyrics, delivered in Clark’s weather-beaten voice, that resonate most of all. Like a gifted short-story writer, Clark is all about details honed to a razor’s edge. “Rain In Durango” is a shrewdly observed character study of a rambling girl: “She wound up with a backstage pass/Was hangin’ with the pickers in the band/Till her heart got broke by a banjo man/Now she’s had all the bluegrass she can stand.”

Every cut is a smart, distinctive gem. The riveting western story-song “The Death of Sis Draper” would make the late Marty Robbins smile. Clark also casts a sharp eye on the dangerous, addictive life of an artist in “The High Price of Inspiration.” And he offers up a cheeky take on life in “Good Advice.”

“Don’t give me no advice that rhymes/I’ve heard it all a thousand times/Don’t start preachin’ between the lines/Give me somethin’ I can use.” What Clark gives us is thoughtful art. My Favorite Picture of You is a quiet treasure. —Chrissie Dickinson

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