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Published: 2002/09/24
by Dave Rioux

The Dark – Guy Clark

Sugar Hill Records 1070

Now, admittedly, I don't know much about country music. As a matter of fact,
I have been known to make jokes from time to time that go something like:
"Country Music, why that's an oxymoron isn't it?!" or "How many cowboys does
it take to screw in a light bulb? Four. One to turn it and three to sing
about how much they miss the old one." However, that was simply because I
was generalizing based on my limited exposure the Midnight
Brooks varieties of country and western music. I have always enjoyed
bluegrass and certain recordings that contain that high, lonesome sound.
Such people as Johnny Cash, Marty Robbins, Doc Watson or Hank Williams have
the ability to take a desperately sad situation and make it even more
depressing or even funny. But what they also do is make you want to
listen and feel for them, if even just to see how the tragedy ends. They are
natural story-tellers.

Guy Clark is one of those natural teller of tales'. He uses the time
honored qualities of good tragedy: Women, booze, poverty and minor chords.
From what little I have read about him he has also earned the respect of
many a country and western critic. Clark's desire to write a song/story that
moves the listener without concern as to whether or not DJ's will give it
air play has made him one of the more respected writers on the country scene
today. It also makes him, in my mind, someone who has the ability to cross
genre lines, to the ears of people who love a good, honest song that was
written for the sake of the tale — and not the money. I happen to be one of
those people.

From the moment I put in The Dark, I planned on half-listening as I
went about other tasks, sure that it was something that wouldn't appeal to
me. I was grabbed by the sound of chords reminiscent of "Little Sadie", one
of my all-time favorites. That is not to say that the first cut, "Mud", was
rip-off by any means, it's just that my job is to identify a sound you can
relate to. The opening lines are colorful and descriptive, and a prime
example of Guy's prowess with pen: "Down by the creek where the water goes
slow / The green-backed heron and the moccasin know…"

Another story begging to be heard that jumped off the disc to me was that
of "Soldier's Joy". It describes the musings of a dying Civil War soldier
and the stark reality of first aid and field surgery with the only
anesthetic available at the time – that "Soldier's Joy" – whiskey. Here is a
sampling of it's perfect blend of comedy and tragedy: "The doctor came and
looked at me and this is what he said: 'your dancin' days are done son, it's
a wonder you ain't dead…'"

That's not to say that all of Guy's songs are full of despair, but many
are. Songs like "She Loves to Ride Horses" have a sweet edge, while
"Queenie's Song" is yet another hilarious tragedy (at least I hope it was
meant to be dark comedy, either that or I've got a sick sense of humor).
Either way, if you're at all inclined to such things, go pick this one up,
you won't be sorry.

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