It’s hard to think of something that Cowboy Jack Clement didn’t do in the music industry, and do well. He wrote, produced and published hit songs, he discovered and nurtured talent, he built a Nashville studio that became both a going concern and an important social hub, and he recorded three charming albums. This, the last of his three albums, was released shortly after his 2013 passing, and its posthumous timing and all-star lineup turns it into a celebratory wake.
A wide swath of Clement’s friends turned up to help with this album, including Vince Gill, Dierks Bentley, Leon Russell, Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell, Buddy Miller, John Prine, Gillian Welch, Dave Rawlins, Dan Auerbach, Jim Lauderdale, Bobby Bare and Duane Eddy. But even with that cavalcade of stars, it’s Clement’s slightly warbly voice and the deeply written original songs that are the album’s biggest stars. There’s a wistfulness in Clement’s writing that’s wonderfully magnified by his understated performances, as well as this album’s placement as a capstone to his career.
Many of these songs date from the 1960s, and will be familiar from earlier incarnations, but at 82, Clement sang with a perspective much broader than he held when writing forty years earlier. Producer T Bone Burnett and his gathered musicians arranged the songs in ways that set them free of their ‘60s origins. The tempo of “Got Leaving on Her Mind” isn’t as bouncy as Mac Wiseman’s original single, but it’s a lot more urgent than Nat Stuckey’s later hit, and the folk production of “Miller’s Cave” revives the song from its earlier countrypolitan productions.
In returning to his earlier songs, Clement seems to have found them both familiar and new; the living of his long life having deepened his own feelings for what he wrote decades earlier. The romantic losses of “Baby is Gone,” “Just Between You and Me” and “Let the Chips Fall” are leavened by a lifetime of changes, and the nostalgia of “I’ve Got a Thing About Trains” and “Just a Girl I Used to Know” is strengthened by additional decades of absence. It’s always a treat to hear a songwriter revisit their earlier work; all the more so for a songwriter who so rarely recorded, and whose last work so fully reflects the values he lived and wrote. [©2015 Hyperbolium]