The first thing I noticed looking at the cover art for “Songs and Stories” was on the inner part of the gatefold. There are three photos — one of Guy Clark and one each of Verlon Thompson and Shawn Camp, who are both good friends and long-time collaborators of Clark’s. Perhaps the most interesting thing is that all three photos are the same size. I got the feeling (even before listening) that these are people Clark plays with — not in front of. Listening only reiforces that feeling. The whole album has that great loose feel of a bunch of friends having a good time — with a refreshingly small amount of ego to get in the way.
Clark does already have a great live album (1997’s “Keepers”) with a similarly relaxed feel to it, but Clark, wisely, had no intention of making that same album again. There are only three songs that appear on both, and we even get a new story for “L.A. Freeway” — with Clark elaborating on his landlord who was “one of those guys who’d come home from work everyday and go out to the garage and make his own bullets.” Before performing “If I Needed You,” Clark talks about his friend, Townes Van Zandt, who, while living with Guy and Susanna (Clark’s wife), played the song one morning after writing it the night before — in his sleep (“Suspicions confirmed,” says Clark.). We even get a story about Loop and Lil — Townes’ parakeets who are mentioned in the song. The album is well titled because the stories really are a lot of fun, but you might be surprised to find out they don’t all come from Clark.
In the middle of the show, Clark hands things over, first to Shawn Camp who performs two songs he wrote with Clark (“Sis Draper” and “Magnolia Wind”) and second to Verlon Thompson, who plays two of his own for the first time. The best story here is Verlon’s introduction to “Darwettia’s Mandolin,” entitled, “I’m from Greasy Bend.” And not to downplay Camp’s contribution because both performances are great, and this version of “Sis Draper” is the definitive one. I wonder when Clark decided to hand over this part of the show because Verlon, after playing his first song, specifically mentions that neither Bryn Davies (upright bass) nor Kenny Malone (percussion) knew that song, and introduces the next song as “another one they don’t know.” Regardless of when he decided or why, it’s an interesting move — one that could make some people a little irritated (not that I think Clark is concerned), but it’s such a fun detour, it should be welcomed.
Besides, we get great versions of “Dublin Blues,” “The Cape,” “Maybe I Can Write Over That,” and “The Randall Knife” — none of which appeared on “Keepers.” The musicianship is also expectedly impressive, but never gets in the way of the songs. It’s the kind of live album that reminds you how great live albums can be.