For some songwriters, the only way out of pain is through it.
West Texas troubadour Guy Clark, on his first studio album in four years, grapples with grim material, not least of which is the death of Susanna Clark, his wife of 40 years, from cancer last year.
Yet, remarkably, My Favorite Picture of You is anything but dour. Relying on little more than acoustic guitars, a dash of fiddle and some fine backing vocals from Morgane Stapleton, the 71-year-old singer-songwriter paints one indelible picture after another.
None of which rip your heart out quite like the title track, which Clark wrote about his late wife. “It’s just a moment in time/We can’t have back/You never left/But your bags were packed/Just in case,” he croons, stirring up emotions with an economy of language that’s breathtaking.
And that’s Clark’s not-so-secret weapon: He wields words with considerable care. Nothing on You is longer than five minutes, but he makes these intimate creations feel expansive and lived-in. The opener, Cornmeal Waltz, sketches an evening at a Texas dance hall, filled with little girls dancing on their daddies’ toes. El Coyote, a south-of-the-border waltz Kris Kristofferson would likely kill for, is spiced with vivid details of men stranded “in the South Texas sun.”
It’s stunning songwriting, presented with minimal ornamentation. Deeply human, tinged with hurt and wrought with a care that can’t be taught, Guy Clark has crafted a true masterpiece.