June 2016 Newsletter
Wednesday, May 18, 2016
GUY CLARK (1941-2016)
A few weeks ago, Texas troubadour Guy Clark became the latest casualty in a year that has robbed us of so many influential musical voices. I have long admired the clean lines and seamless joints of his songs, each one inevitable and sturdy as a piece of fine furniture. He was, among many other things, a contemporary of Townes Van Zandt and a mentor to Steve Earle, but to my mind he never generated half the press and recognition that they received. Maybe that's because he never flamed out or rose from the ashes. Such calamities make for a great press angle, but are no more impressive than an artist who sounded as fully-formed on his '75 debut as he did on his final 2013 record "My Favorite Picture of You."
As a musically-omnivorous kid growing up in the Boston suburbs, I found Clark's songs when my biology teacher lent me a copy of Jerry Jeff Walker's "Viva Terlingua" record. It was the first country music I'd ever listened to, and it sparked an intense yearning for the American West. That record, and Guy Clark's song in particular, opened up a whole new world of artists like Terry Allen, Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Butch Hancock, Robert Earl Keen, Townes Van Zandt and so many more. Years later, l would face the challenge of how to translate those Texas songwriters' sense of place, both natural and cultural, into songs by a young man who had lived his whole life in New England. That mission continues to this day, but I'm not sure I would have even known that it was possible if not for Guy Clark and his contemporaries.
He wrote so many wonderful songs, but I guess my favorite would be "The Cape," from 1995's Dublin Blues. The song is a multi-course feast: a celebration of an indelibly independent spirit, a frank admissionof both the ravages of time and the capitulations the world exacts...in exactly 3 minutes and 39 seconds. The hook "Spread your wings, hold your breath, and always trust your cape," immediately bringsto mind an old Polaroid from when I was maybe 4 years old, legs apart and hands planted on my waist in full Superman pose, beaming in front of the fireplace with my blanket tied around my neck. In so many ways--as a folksinger, as a husband and father--I try daily to hold on to just a little of the spirit in that picture, which is exactly what Clark suggests in "The Cape." The image of a makeshift cape, and what it elicits in a kid's imagination, wove itself into not one but two songs on my latest record.
There is a video of me recording a version of my song "Volunteers," recorded by the legendary producer Don Was in a day-long, multi-artist session in a Nashville studio. My eyes are closed the entire time, I'm investing the performance with everything I've got, and I look like I'm just trying to not lose my shit. That's partly because of the song's subject matter, but also partly because of the artist who did the session just before me. He had laid down his song by the time I arrived at the studio, and after he smoked a few cigarettes in the control room, he left before I could muster the courage to tell him what his music meant to me.
It was a bittersweet reminder of two valuable life lessons. The first, of course, was always trust your cape. The second? Never try to follow Guy Clark.
VIDEO: Thanks to PopMatters for hosting the premiere of my "Analog Hero" video! I am extremely proud of this piece, filmed and edited by Shutter & String (Sam Kassirer & Liam Hurley from Josh Ritter's band) in a couple of off-the-beaten-path locations in Kezar Falls, Maine. It features real-life fix-it man John Hubbard as the song's protagonist, acting out an alternate visual narrative against the backdrop of my song, and I couldn't be happier with the overall effect. If you haven't see it yet, check it out HERE.
FESTIVALS: Festivals seem to ebb and flow--some years I do several during the summer, other years I can't get arrested. Fortunately, this summer falls into the former category. Check out the details for tsuch varied and far-flung events as Ebb & Folk (Gloucester MA), Shrewsbury Folk Fest (UK), and the Sisters (OR) and Moab (UT) Folk Festivals on the TOUR page of my website.
REVIEWS: The great reviews continue to pour in for For A Song. The UK's Telegraph gave it "5 stars" and called it "one of the best country albums of 2016." PopMatters, in one of the highest bits of praise imaginable, says "Erelli’s direct and seemingly simple style of writing and telling a story compares favorably to the work of Guy Clark." As always, you can't believe everything you read, so you really need to check it out for yourself. Get your copy straight from me today by clicking HERE.
MP3 of the MONTH: It seems fitting that this month's free song is one of the two on For A Song that references Guy Clark's "The Cape." We captured a nice live version of "Magic" from my album release show at Passim. You can check it out HERE, where it will be available for free for the month of June. Enjoy!
Thu June 2 - St. Lawrence Arts Center, Portland ME - 7 pm
I don't have much going on this month, but the one show I do have is a special one. I used to live a handful of houses away from this beautiful old church that was converted into an arts center. I never played there when I lived in the neighborhood, so it will be nice to draw upon so many songs that were written, literally, just a couple hundred yards away (Five Beer Moon, Hope Dies Last, Evening's Curtain, Congress St, etc). Portland is a beautiful place to be this time of year, so come on up (or down) for this one.
No sideman gigs on the books this month, but you never know where I'll pop up unannounced.
ON THE HORIZON:
July 22 - Jammin' Java, Vienna VA** **Special guest on Lori McKenna's "Wreck You" tour!
July 23 - Ebb & Folk, Gloucester MA
Aug 4 - City Winery, New York NY**
Aug 13 - The Sinclair, Cambridge MA**
Aug 19 - Stone Mountain Arts Center, Brownfield ME**
Aug 20 - Spire Center, Plymouth MA**
Aug 28 - Shrewsbury Folk Festival, Shrewsbury UK (Barnstar!)
Sept 6-11 - Sisters Folk Festival, Sisters OR