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4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars
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on 25 March 2001
This is a great collection of great songs by a great artist. You will find here songs that are well written, beuatifully crafted and played with simple, effective skill. Guy Clark burst onto the alternative country scene with Old Number One and its a mystery how his particular brand of musical story telling didn't catch on to find wider, more lucrative audiences. Guy has eschewed commercialism and missed out on the TV fuelled, cash for cliches bonanza that country has become. Instead he preferred poetry. And here you find that in abundance. The melancholy tale of an old wino and a whore, the final days of a pioneer oil man, the balld of a dying gunfighter bemused by the early twentieth century technology. Themes that reflect the working class Texan culture that Clark grew up in: pain, death, booze, lonliness, but most of all hope. Hope and the irrespressiblity of the human spirit...
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Better known as a songwriter, Guy's always-brilliant albums never sold in big quantities. Maybe Guy's voice didn't appeal to mainstream country radio, or maybe his lake of stage presence when performing live counted against him. Although he never became a major star, Guy built up a significant fan base in Britain and America. More significantly, other singers appreciated the quality of his songs and have recorded many of them as well as lending their support on Guy's own recordings. Thus, even if you've never heard any of Guy's own music, you may well have heard some of his songs. This twofer contains Guy's two albums for RCA - the first two albums of his career.
Guy's debut album (Old No 1) occupies the first ten tracks here and is generally regarded as the best album of his career. Among the stars providing harmony vocals are Rodney Crowell, Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle and Sammi Smith. It is extraordinary to think that Steve Earle (whose own music was influenced by Guy's to some extent) didn't make his own breakthrough until more than a decade after this album was recorded. The set opens with Rita Ballou, later covered by Vince Gill (you can find it on his breakthrough album, When I call your name). The most famous songs here are LA freeway (a minor American hit for Jerry Jeff Walker), Texas 1947 (covered by Johnny Cash) and Desperadoes waiting for a train (covered by many different artists).
Following the critical acclaim of his debut, Guy followed it up with the almost equally brilliant Texas cooking, which occupies the last ten tracks here. Rodney and Emmylou again provide harmony, this time joined by Jerry Jeff Walker, Nicolette Larson, Waylon Jennings, Hoyt Axton and Tracy Nelson among others. Further classic songs are to be found here including The last gunfighter ballad (later covered by Johnny Cash).
Subsequent albums provided further songs for others to record including Heartbroke (Ricky Skaggs), She's crazy for leaving (Rodney Crowell) and Old friends (Lacy J Dalton). Guy's versions of those songs can be found elsewhere.
Whatever the reasons for Guy's lack of commercial success, he has proved his worth as a songwriter while there are enough people (including me) who appreciate his music to warrant record companies re-issuing his old material.
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on 28 March 2002
This is probably the best CD I own. An example of songwriting perfection, Guy pours his heart out in these albums. The songs are fascinating, the content brutally honest. Mainstream country could learn a helluva lot from this Guy.
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Guy Clark's "Old No. 1" album was critically acclaimed when it was released and the passage of time hasn't done anything to dent its reputation as one of the best country folk albums ever. I thought I would use this space to try and figure out just why this album is held in such high esteem. I could say that it's a set of very, very good songs, very well performed, but that doesn't help very much even if it does put the emphasis on the songs. So what are these factors that I think have contributed (in no particular order)?

* Clark was 34 when "Old No. 1" was released so had had plenty of time to hone this first set of songs he was to release. Judging by the gaps between later albums plus comments that have been made about his mode of working, he does spend a considerable amount of time crafting each of his songs, and I think this does show.
* For someone that age (and with the look of a pretty cool guy on the sleeve), Clark's voice is quite something. It has the gravitas and lived-in tone of someone many years older. I'm reminded of the young Cash back in the Sun days. He used to sound much older than he was.
* Quite a few country songwriters have specialised in their use of words and phrases to catch the listener's attention. I'm thinking of things like "She only woke me up to say goodbye". Clark has mastered this skill and arguably, lifted it to the level of poetry - not my words, other critics have said this - to the extent that phrases leap at you while you're listening. I'm thinking of phrases like "Standing on the gone side of leaving", and, "It's ice cream on a stick and it's something you can't buy", and, "like an old grey cat in Winter keeping close to the wall", and, "Run his fingers through seventy years of living". I could go on and on with examples.
* In terms of content the songs are unusual. Many are in the form of intimate anecdotes using a combination of stories he's picked up from a variety of sources together with fiction to glue it all together. What we get is a sort of pseudo nostalgia. Rarely does he go for the more typical relationship material.
* Many of the songs have characters in - Clark makes these people live and breathe.
* Melodically the songs are often evocative of country "old-timey" music, all those great names like the Carter Family. This wasn't what the majority of listeners were used to in 1975. In recent years we have become more familiar with such music through artists like Gillian Welch. But back in those days this was neither typical country, even outlaw country, nor was it typical folk.
* The choice of instruments largely backs up the old-timey feel. This is helped by Clark leaving space for instruments in his songs, e.g. "A Nickel for the Fiddler", "Rita Ballou".
* Any good album needs a standout opener and this album gets it in the form of "Rita Ballou". This is the nearest thing to an outright "kick-ass" number on the whole mood and it sets the mood.
* Any great album needs at least one really great number on it. Well this one's got it in "Desperadoes waiting for a train" with its superb evocation of time and place together with memorable soaring melody line. In addition there's that obvious filmic reference to the marvellous opening shots of the film "Once upon a time in the West". Inevitably this encourages critics to describe Clark's music as cinematic.
* There also happen to be a lot of good intros to songs on the album - listen to "LA Freeway" and "Desperadoes" again, but these aren't the only ones.
* And he does write a mean train song, with lines like, "Trains are big and black and smoking", and even better, "Screaming straight though Texas like a mad dog cyclone"

I don't know if that helps. At least I gave it a try.

"Texas Cookin`" is an attempt to produce more along the same times. Perhaps its songs aren't quite as memorable but it's still pretty good.
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on 20 November 2008
Among roughly two dozen CDs recently ordered, that are taking me more and more to the roots and outer reaches of country music, this one really sticks out most. It's two original albums packed onto one disk. Just having the first would well be worth the money. It's a debut of such monumental quality it really amazes, that it's gotten so little attention, especially because I really think it does get you hooked on the very first listening. Texas Cooking doesn't fully keep up, especially because the clarity of Guy's voice gets very slightly muddled in the production and it's not as distinctly Texan. The storytelling is on par with the stuff Johnny Cash put into the American Recordings, only its all Guy Clark original songs. A must buy for the lonely island. 6 stars.
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on 27 June 2014
You can often take the measure of a man by the company he keeps . In the slimepit of politics Tony Blair had Peter Mandelson and George Bush while David Cameron had Rebekah Brooks and the school sneak George Osborne . In music my liking for the late Steve Goodman led me to his best mate John Prine . When the late troubled Townes Van Zandt had nowhere else to turn he found shelter under the roof of Guy Clark . I had never heard Guy Clark and bought this album simply because I liked the music of his mate . My instinct was right . These two albums on one bargain disc are both tough and tender - desperado music of the highest order . Some say Old Number 1 is better than Texas Cookin but I can spot little difference in quality . Highly recommended .
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on 22 January 2010
This is one superb collection of songs: well written, beautifully performed and telling moving stories. I challenge any listener not to be moved by the likes of 'She Ain't Going Nowhere' or 'Instant Coffee Blues'. I came to Guy Clarke from a rock music background via Steve Earle. Guy, along with the likes of Mr. Earle and Townes Van Zandt, has eschewed commercialism and taken country music back to its roots. I still consider myself a rock music fan but you cannot ignore or fail to enjoy songwriting of this quality.
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on 19 May 2016
When Old No.1 came out in 1975 it was hailed as a masterpiece. It's still a masterpiece today, ten songs of the finest craftsmanship you will ever wish to find. Songs like LA Freeway, She Ain't Goin' Nowhere, That Old Time Feeling, Texas 1947, Desperados Waiting for the Train, Like a Coat From the Cold, and Let Him Roll - you just won't find better country songs than these anywhere. And added to this you have Guy's second album tacked on as well, a bargain of a CD if there ever was one. And after that, check out his other CDs too. They're full of classic songs that will touch your soul and stay with you for life.
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on 4 July 2009
Back in the 70's, I used to borrow country LPs from our local library. I was a 'closet' country fan, as all my teenage peers were wandering around clutching Pink Floyd albums, and 'Tubular Bells'. Guy Clark was one voice I loved from those days, so it was good to download this MP3 album, and indulge in a bit of nostalgia. 'LA Freeway' was one song that had wedged itself in my mind, but good to listen to them all again!
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VINE VOICEon 23 April 2003
A lot of people who think they hate country music would like this. The first album is full of mostly slower songs, usually with quite simple, sparse backing. The second is more up-tempo, sounding something like a missing link between Willie Nelson & Little Feat, if you can imagine that. Some excellent lyrics which suit his limited, gruff voice very well.
Only missed five stars beacause of some annonying screaching background vocals, mostly Emmylou Harris, I susoect.
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