Black Top 1145
Standing backstage at a festival he was headlining a couple of years ago, W.C. Clark had the concerned look a man gets watching the final warm-up act completely destroy the late-night audience and knowing he has to follow that up backed by a band he has yet to lay eyes on. When it was finally his turn, Clark calmly strapped on his guitar, walked out on stage, gave the band a brief instruction and launched into a set that left no doubt who reigned over this evening. Which should come as no surprise to those familiar with the work of this consummate musician from Austin, Texas.
Clark began his journey in the blues in the late ’50s under the tutelage of local giants T.D. Bell and Erbie Bowser and developed as a guitarist while in the band of the great Joe Tex. In the 1970s he was at the center of the blues renaissance in Austin that attracted such local lights as Angela Strehli, Lou Ann Barton, Jimmie Vaughan and his baby brother, Stevie Ray. It was Clark who co-authored the latter’s hit, "Cold Shot." This is his third album for the Black Top label and the first since a tragic car accident a year ago claimed the lives of his fiancee and his long-time drummer.
Texas Soul, the title of W.C. Clark’s last recording, aptly describes the characteristic style of his music. Like Little Milton, among others, Clark is blessed with a voice that can easily slip across the border between gritty blues and honey-dripping soul, and Clark spends the better part of his time dodging the border guards, his tough Texas guitar always ready for any trouble.
But what really makes Clark a checkpoint terror is great songwriting and a classic R&B groove. As if he needed any additional firepower, he’s got plenty in local hired assassins Derek O’Brien, Kaz Kazanoff, and Chris Layton and Tommy Shannon (of Double Trouble fame).
The first three tracks, including a smoking cover of Little Milton’s "Lonely No More," get the album off to a toe-tapping tempo, with Clark’s fluid guitar solos politely interrupting Kazanoff’s chunky horn arrangements. Things then slow down on "Someday," the kind of tender ballad that in the hands of the late Sam Cooke could single-handedly affect the country’s birth rate. Echoes of Cooke’s melismatic phrasing figure are prominent in Clark’s singing here.
Later he contributes one of the album’s gems, a plaintive tune titled "Are You Here, Are You There?" that is propelled by the chang/chang strumming that the great Jimmy Nolen added to the R&B vernacular. Homer Banks’ (author of "Always and Forever") cheery "Sunshine Lady" also gets the Clark treatment before he absolutely slays Al Green’s "I’m Hooked on You." It takes some cojones to try to cover the inimitable Green, but you’ll never hear anyone do a better job. On "Do You Mean It," Clark and O’Brien finally whip the crap out of their axes just so you know they can do it.
W.C. Clark is a true Texas original and a well-deserved legend back home, where he is referred to as Austin’s godfather of the blues. Every one of his albums, much like the man himself, has been marked by great taste, class and distinctive music. This one is no exception.
— Jack Oudiz