Cowboy Jack Clement’s For Once And For All


Cowboy Jack Clement’s For Once And For All

By Michael Verity

Jack_Clement_CVR-ARTIn light of Cowboy Jack’s recent passing and his legacy as a country songwriting genius and rock and roll pioneer, it’s tempting to dispense with any real criticism of For Once And For All and simply praise it as a wonderful swan song from a musical genius. But, when the subject at hand is credited for discovering Jerry Lee Lewis, writing hits for Johnny Cash and producing songs for U2, the critical bar is set pretty high and any little misstep can cause it to be easily toppled. The good news is that For Once And For All is, in fact, a fanciful leap over the bar, executed with only the slightest quivering touch of imperfection as he sailed to the other side.

The imperfection, strangely enough given Clement’s background as a producer, is in the recording. Clement sounds strangely disconnected from the rest of the band, frequently mixed into the soundscape through the untoward use of reverb and other such room sweetening techniques. It’s particularly prominent — and distracting — on the album’s unnecessarily noisy second cut, “Got Leaving On Her Mind.”

But that’s a small quivering criticism in the face of what’s otherwise a sweetly sentimental record that features Clement singing along to his own songs with joy and ease. “I’ve Got A Thing About Trains” is a relaxing musical tapestry woven from the Americana of Woody Guthrie and the folklore of Burl Ives. “Baby Is Gone” is a song of heartbreak disguised in the sheep’s clothing of sing-a-long balladry while the steel guitar and Jordanaires vocals of “Just You And Me” calls to mind the great 70s songs of another Clement protege, Charley Pride. “Miller’s Cave” is one of the most inventive songs of deceit and deception ever written, a combination of Marty Robbins humor and (early) Kenny Rogers folk.

There are mystery ballads (“Let The Chips Fall”), another train song (“The Spell Of A Freight Train”) and a heartbreakingly beautiful closer, “Jesus Don’t Give Up On Me,” all delivered in Clement trademark style, casual and matter-of-fact. With no shortage of star-studded assistance from a long list of luminaries (John Prine, Emmylou Harris, Bobby Bare, Duane Eddy, T-Bone Burnett, Vince Gill, Marty Stuart, Rodney Crowell, Buddy Miller, Leon Russell, Gillian Welch and on and on and on), there’s sparkling musicianship to spare.

So, as Cowboy Jack himself might’ve said, For Once And For All ain’t perfect by any means but it was certainly a pleasure.

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