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Guy Clark shows off song skills

John T. Davis
He might not be a household name, but Guy Clark is known and respected for his transcendent songwriting skills.

The state of the art of Texas songwriting can pretty much be summed up in two words: Guy Clark.

Clark’s musical craftsmanship and work ethic has been compared to artisanal carpentry so often that it has become a cliché (hey, the guy builds his own guitars, after all). But, as will happen, it’s a cliché that has the ring of truth.

On the cusp of his 71st birthday, Clark will returned to Austin for a two-night stand at the Texas Union Theater. He played last night and will play Sunday.

The last time he was in town, just about this time last year, it was as the honoree at an all-star 70th birthday party celebrating the release of “This One’s For Him,” a two-disc tribute album. The artistic firepower onstage at the Long Center that night was considerable: Lyle Lovett, Shawn Colvin, Jerry Jeff Walker, Rodney Crowell, Radney Foster and more all paid their respects. Clark savored it all, with a mixture of abashed amusement and genuine affection.

Though he’s never been a household name, Clark has long been the gold standard that country and Americana songwriters aspire to. He couldn’t sell out an arena, but he’s written hits for people that do, most recently Kenny Chesney (“Hemingway’s Whiskey”), as well as Waylon Jennings, Jimmy Buffett, Alan Jackson, George Strait and Johnny Cash, among others.

His own catalog is one finely wrought gem after another: “Dublin Blues,” “Coat From the Cold,” “L.A. Freeway,” “The Randall Knife” and scores of others, hewn one note, one chorus at a time. If the metaphor of carpentry proves apt, it’s because Clark has built a house of song over the decades, and it is a structure that will stand the test of time.

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