GUY CLARK Workbench Songs (Dualtone)

Guy Clark’s 11th album in three decades sounds as authentically homespun as the title suggests – heck, one track was even recorded in a barn – being a fabulously warm, natural production. His subtle and authentic songs seem like the products of slow-burning, fastidious craft, and the relaxed playing of the small group of musicians involved demonstrates the kind of easygoing camaraderie it’s impossible to fake.

One moment he’s invoking the memories of Guthrie and Gandhi on the title track, the next he’s unspooling dryly humorous tales of the elements (“Tornado Time In Texas”), spurned rodeo clowns (“Funny Bone”) and kiss-and-tell journalism (the Rodney Crowell co-write “Exposť”, which sparkles with irony – unless Clark’s private life really is tainted by scandal!) Most artists would save the welling resignation and gently dashed dreams of “Magdalene” up for a tearjerking closer: Clark has sufficient faith in his songwriting stock that he can park it in the second slot of 11. A cover of his friend Townes Van Zandt’s “No Lonesome Tune” is so different in mood from the rest of the album that it almost seems to suck the light from the surrounding songs. “Cinco De Mayo In Memphis” follows Graceland-bound Mexican deckhands on shore leave; the titular technology refusenik of “Analog Girl” doesn’t seem to have any recorded opposition to CDs (such as this one!) The highlight for me is “Out In The Parkin’ Lot”, where gathering storytelling paints a picture that could be repeated beneath a thousand points of light across a continent.

“Workbench Songs” wears its traditionalism like a badge of honour: honest songs, carefully played and lovingly sung. Sometimes that’s all you can ask of an album.