The authors are English musicians who inaugurate a new series of books profiling esteemed songwriters with this portrait of Guy Clark. (Their next subject is the sisters McGarrigle.)
Alternating between oral history and song explication, Song Builder is a quick read, rather like one of Musician magazine’s vintage cover stories gone large. Built principally around the authors’ interviews with Guy and Susanna Clark and many of their close friends, Evans and Horne — one interviews, the other writes — have fashioned an affectionate and reverential profile of the esteemed songwriter.
Their connection to Clark’s work is, quite naturally, shaped by the limitations of geography and record distribution. They do well to point to the universal appeal of his detail-rich lyrics, though one suspects some of the nuances of the America he so evocatively renders — and of Texas, in particular — are beyond their grasp. Clark’s famous story of nailing himself into a bedroom to avoid the laughter of his wife and Townes Van Zandt is charming, but one pauses at the transcription “16 pin nails.” That would be “penny,” but it’s a small point.
Clark’s life is quickly sketched, from his childhood in Monahans, Texas, to Houston, to Los Angeles, to Nashville, and on the long touring road. They even tracked down the female attorney who first inspired Clark’s interest in the guitar. The sole omission seems to be Steve Earle, who is mentioned only in passing. Quite possibly he was unavailable when the authors were in Nashville conducting interviews; probably the time Earle spent on the road with Guy and Townes was vastly more important in shaping his career than theirs.
But principally, as fans and musicians, they are interested in Guy Clark’s songs, and his songwriting process. One chapter is devoted to “The Randall Knife”, while most of the rest of their favorites — the authors’ and the subject’s — receive a paragraph or two, woven throughout the narrative. The result is more appreciation than analysis, and it’s not clear that one knows Clark better at the end; one just knows more about him, which is doubtless as it should be.