Tag Archives: Dualtone

Guy Clark: The Best of the Dualtone Years

Selections from his last three albums, plus demos

The Nashville-based Dualtone label has an enviable catalog, including albums by the Lumineers, Shovels & Rope, and perhaps most precious of all, Guy Clark. Clark arrived at Dualtone in 2006 as an oft-covered songwriter and a well-loved recording artist. His three studio albums for the label were each nominated for a Grammy, and 2013’s My Favorite Picture of You took home the trophy. Clark’s May 2016 passing turned these recordings into a capstone to a thirty-nine year career that made earlier stops at RCA, Warner Brothers, Asylum and Sugar Hill. Dualtone’s 19-track collection cherrypicks Clark’s three studio albums and his 2011 live release Songs and Stories, and adds a trio of previously unreleased demos that were co-written with Hal Ketchum, Marty Stuart and Holly Gleason.

No song in this collection is more emblematic of Clark’s observational powers than “My Favorite Picture of You,” in which he draws a lifetime’s worth of knowing – “a thousand words / in the blink of an eye” – from a bent and faded snapshot of his wife. Elsewhere in the collection he turns a thrift store guitar into a ghost story, and under his watchful gaze, a roadhouse parking lot harbors the drama and detail of a novella. The dreamlike interior of that dancehall is extolled in “Cornmeal Waltz” as a fiddle moves dancers gently around the floor in three-four time. Clark was a writer’s writer, musing on the physical and psychic costs of his art in “Hemingway’s Whiskey” and turning fierce weather into humorous poetry with “Tornado Time in Texas.”

The live tracks add several of Clark’s most-loved songs to the collection, including “L.A. Freeway,” “Homegrown Tomatoes,” and “The Randall Knife.” The former features a mid-song monologue that further illuminates Clark’s poor fit in Los Angeles, while the latter draws a portrait of his grief from an elegy to his father. Clark’s mantle as a songwriter is represented by songs that were covered by Kenny Chesney, Jerry Jeff Walker, Brad Paisley and John Denver, and his influences by a cover of Townes Van Zandt’s “If I Needed You.” The three newly uncovered recordings that end disc two are guitar-and-voice songwriter demos that emphasize the songs’ folkloric qualities. The tri-fold digipak includes liner notes by Gleason and spreads 68 minutes of music across two discs. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Guy Clark’s Bandcamp Page

Matraca Berg: The Dreaming Fields

A hit songwriter’s return to performing

It’s been fourteen years – entirely too long – since songwriter Matraca Berg recorded her last commercially released album, 1997’s Sunday Morning to Saturday Night. Though she’s never found the chart-topping success as a singer that she’s scored as a writer (having penned “Wrong Side of Memphis” for Trisha Yearwood, “Wild Angels” for Martina McBride, “You Can Feel Bad” for Patty Loveless and “Strawberry Wine” for Deana Carter, among dozens of other hit singles and album tracks), critics and fans have treasured her original performances. Unfortunately, when her former label (Rising Tide) closed shop in 1998, her last album found critical accolades that went unmatched by sales, and she returned to writing (including songs for the theatrical production Good Ol’ Girls), live performance and background singing.

Berg’s latest set shows off her talent for writing deeply personal songs that touch intimate, individual memories in each listener. Her songwriting craft and soulful performances suggest a modern-day Carole King, but one flowering at a time when music discovery has become highly balkanized. The funnel of country radio has narrowed further in the last decade, and the channels of indie promotion have simultaneously multiplied and fragmented. Berg’s songs have always been thoughtful, but her lyrics have become more allusive and her performances more subtle and introspective, necessitating longer exposure than a ten-second Pandora needle-drop or snippets woven into an NPR review. Whether her new album gets the hearing it deserves will depend in large part on word-of-mouth from her fans.

Writing in mid-life, the youthful optimism and wistful nostalgia of her earlier songs have taken a backseat to more realistic endings. The album’s title track is a somber elegy for her grandfather’s farm, one in which the golden hues of yesterday share space with the overgrowth and rust of today. The Hollywood dreams of a small town girl in “Silver and Glass” reveal themselves as fading illusions as age presents its inevitable transformations in the mirror. Even Berg’s beloved cherubs, which served as guardians in 1995’s “Wild Angels” (a chart-topper for Martina McBride), have matured into escorts for a bittersweet final journey in “Racing the Angels.” Only 2002’s “Oh Cumberland” (originally recorded with Emmylou Harris for the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s Will the Circle Be Unbroken, Vol. 3, revels unabashedly in the warmth of memories.

Berg contemplates the attraction of dangerous liaisons in “You and Tequila” (co-written with Deana Carter, and recently released as a single by Kenny Chesney and Grace Potter), but when vulnerability turns into deceit, a serial cheater’s dalliances catch up to him in the foreboding “Ode to Billy Joe” styled “Your Husband’s Cheating on Us.” Berg’s a deft author of characters, including a battered woman taking a stand and a mother coping with the inexplicable loss of a soldier son; but her best character is often herself. She closes with the ballad “A Cold, Rainy Morning in London in June,” evoking her longing for home and her comfort in having a home to long for. It’s a contemplative, yet passionate finish to an album woven from multiple strands of deep emotion and strong expression. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

Matraca Berg’s Home Page

Kermit Lynch: Kitty Fur

The blossoming of a wine master’s music career

Kermit Lynch is well-known to oenophiles for his unique wine importing business; but even his most ardent customers would be surprised to find he’s also a gifted musician. Throughout the sixties, Lynch fronted bands in the Berkeley area, only giving it up in the early ‘70s when his travels through Europe begat a career in wine. With the encouragement of vintner/musician Boz Scaggs, Lynch returned to music in 2005, and with co-producer Ricky Fataar, released the album Quicksand Blues. In 2009 he followed-up with Man’s Temptation, mixing literate, world-traveled originals with well-selected covers that included a terrific old-timey take on Lee Hazlewood’s rockabilly classic “The Fool.”

With Fataar once again in the producer’s seat (and drummer’s throne), Lynch offers up his third course, adding an original title track to ten covers. Much like his taste in wines, Lynch’s music is varied and at times eclectic. He sings country, rock, blues, folk, reggae, Cole Porter’s “Every Time We Say Goodbye,” and even the romantic WWII-era “It’s Been a Long, Long Time.” His voice is a bluesy instrument with the weathered edges of someone more partial to grain than grape, and it adds new shades to each interpretation. The opening original “Kitty Fur” has the blue jazz feel of Mose Allison, the Rolling Stones’ “Winter” is played more like Sticky Fingers than Goats Head Soup, and Dylan’s slight “Winterlude” (from 1970’s New Morning) is slowed into a luscious waltz that’s more classic country than the original’s old-timey vibe.

Lynch is backed by top-notch players, including Rick Vito on guitar, Michael Omartian on piano, Dennis Crouch, Michael Rhodes on bass, Glen Duncan on fiddle and Lloyd Green on pedal steel. The core players are augmented by a horn section for Bobby Blue Bland’s “She’s Puttin’ Something in My Food,” and sound really together as a band, suggesting Lynch is as accomplished at leading a band as he is leading a business. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

MP3 | Kitty Fur
Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant

Guy Clark: Somedays the Song Writes You

GuyClark_SomedaysTheSongWritesYouFinely crafted acoustic country-folk songs from a Texas legend

The songwriter’s craft of juxtaposing words to describe a person, scene or situation or to communicate a feeling is only the surface of a process that starts deep within. The ability to step outside one’s own moment to describe what’s happening or happened, to recognize, observe and frame an experience in which one may be an active participant, is the more ephemeral side of songwriting. It’s something that few do as well as Guy Clark, and married to finely selected words, his songs provide uncommonly detailed and communicative windows into moments and people who might otherwise pass unobserved.

In the title song, Clark addresses the alchemical process of songwriting. He notes that songs often appear to songwriters from thin air to exert themselves into being. But with a writer of Clark’s caliber, years of practice has left him open to divine these works, to snatch a moment of consciousness out of the rushing river of living. On “Hemingway’s Whiskey” he communes writer to writer about the debilitating muse, offering a personal glimpse into the pain of writing, and a picture of drinking as a chronic enabler rather than the classic reactive salve to lost love. Clark is equally effective sketching the seedy side of town, conjuring the scene of a seafarer’s final voyage, and animating a pawn shop guitar. The latter’s twist ending is laid in a lovely flurry of acoustic finger picking.

The album is filled with lush acoustic playing from Clark and Verlon Thompson, and the rhythms of Kenny Malone (drums) and Bryn Davies (bass) provide a stable but subtle bottom end. Clark’s voice has weathered over the years, and though it’s never been the prettiest or most melodic instrument, it’s filled with emotion, particularly when covering his late friend Townes Van Zandt’s “If I Needed You.” His co-writes with Rodney Crowell, Shawn Camp, Gary Nicholson, as well as several up-and-coming writers, bring together two generations of his disciples. Clark’s long been a “songwriter’s songwriter,” but he’s never stopped working on his craft, and the results are plain to hear on this latest release. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]

MP3 | The Guitar
Guy Clark’s Home Page

Charlie Robison: Beautiful Day

CharlieRobison_BeautifulDayA lovable rogue laid flat by divorce

It’s been five years since we last heard from Charlie Robison. After a run on Sony’s Lucky Dog label and a live album on Columbia, Robison moved to the indie Dualtone for 2004’s Good Times. Though he continued to perform live, the CDs he’d been releasing every year or two dried up. Perhaps now we know why: in 2008 his nine-year marriage to Dixie Chick Emily Robison ended in divorce. Rather than writing through the dissolution, he saved up his emotions for this post-divorce album. Only he and his ex know if the venom is righteous, but whether it’s well-founded criticism or angry lashing-out, it still packs a sting. One takeaway: don’t leave a writer feeling you’ve wronged them.

No doubt many of these songs were written in the final throes of Robison’s marriage, but the wreckage is viewed as aftermath rather than from the eye of the hurricane. Robison charts many of the classic stages of recovery, including shock, confusion, denial, anger, depression, and uneasy acceptance. He doesn’t bother to cloak his emotions in songwriter’s allusion, but there’s artfulness in the way he opens up the main veins to purge his bitterness. Given that his marriage had officially “become insupportable because of discord or conflict of personalities,” it’s unsurprising that Robison would castigate his ex for the lightweight echo of her former self he believes she’s become, and the broken promises with which he’s left.

Robison begins his reappraisal with the title track’s scathing portrait of superficial life in Los Angeles, and continues with a bitter spit of words in “Yellow Blues.” The latter has a terrific country-psych arrangement, complete with Eastern influence, twangy and backwards guitars, and a thumping “Tomorrow Never Knows” styled bass line. The lyrics suggest that in an effort to bolster favorable public perception, Robison’s mate kept their marital problems quiet rather than facing them down. A pair of Keith Gattis songs, “Down Again” and “Reconsider,” covers the merry-go-round of depression and forlorn denial. Robison writes of self-pity, barroom self-medication, and tentative steps towards recovery, the latter is most healthily heard in the chiming mandolin and social reconnections of “Feelin’ Good.”

By album’s end Robison’s far from healed, and a defeated cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Racing in the Street” begs the question of whether failure has permanently short-circuited opportunity and hope. While Springsteen’s lyrics could illustrate the stunted adolescence of American Graffiti’s John Milner, Robison’s version suggests he’s stepping outside his own misery to consider the broader impact of his divorce. Either way, the roguish abandon of younger years has given way to middle-age doubt and regret. This isn’t nearly as depressing as it might seem, and though the processing isn’t pretty, the raw turmoil provides Robison the basis for this powerful album. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]

Charlie Robison’s Home Page
Charlie Robison’s MySpace Page