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Pop reviews — Week of July 28

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My Favorite Picture of You

Guy Clark

On the cover of the album My Favorite Picture of You, veteran singer-songwriter Guy Clark holds an old Polaroid snapshot of his wife, Susanna, who died in 2012.

The photo captures a fierce look on Susanna Clark’s face, her arms crossed. As the title song explains, she was upset and considering leaving because of her husband’s behavior. The song is a tribute, in Clark’s concisely poetic fashion, as he notes lovingly in his sweetly gruff voice that his wife was “a stand-up angel who won’t back down.”

That blunt autobiography, and the masculine sentimentality it contains, encapsulates Clark’s distinctive gifts. A legend among fans of acoustic music steeped in country, folk and blues, the 71-year-old Clark hasn’t been the most prolific recording artist over a nearly 40-year recording career. But he is among the most consistent, setting the bar for raw-boned, open-hearted, slow-rolling narratives.

Working with old friends and a small collection of younger musicians and co-writers, Clark continues that streak on My Favorite Picture of You. Past the touching title song, he writes with moving detail about emotionally scarred soldiers in Heroes, tragic border crossings in El Coyote and stoking the muse through dangerous habits in The High Price of Inspiration.

— Michael McCall

Associated Press

Light of the World

James Lee Burke

The themes in James Lee Burke’s lyrical, allegorical crime novels rarely change, but each new book delves more deeply, increasingly troubled about human nature and the American character but unwilling to abandon hope for redemption.

Light of the World begins with Burke’s most popular protagonists, Sheriff’s Detective Dave Robicheaux of New Iberia, La., and his menacing sidekick, Clete Purcel, vacationing in Montana with their grown daughters, Alafair and Gretchen. But when someone tries to kill Alafair with an arrow, it’s clear that trouble followed them.

Most of the characters have long struggled with childhood trauma. Burke’s fans have watched Alafair grow from a frightened adopted child to a successful author. Gretchen was sexually abused as a child and grew up strong enough to kill one of her abusers. The villains, including oil magnate Love Younger and his arrogant son, Caspian, are struggling with their own dark secrets. So is Wyatt Dixon, the violent rodeo clown who wanders into the story from In the Moon of Red Ponies (2004).

Some of these damaged characters have channeled their pain into a fierce determination to help people while others have turned their anger into bloodlust, Burke tells us, exploring his old theme about the possibilities of redemption.

Once again, Burke creates villains who view avarice as a virtue, heedless of the damage they wreak. He demonstrates how easily they corrupt the police and politicians. He returns to his themes of racism and the hijacking of Christianity by hateful bigots. And he continues his exploration of the nature of evil.

As in all of Burke’s work, the past is ever present, haunting both his characters and the soul of the nation. Specters of Nez Perce Indians slaughtered by the U.S. cavalry haunt the Montana ridges, and a troubled and selfless woman is the embodiment of a Christian martyr slaughtered in a Roman arena.

Dave and Clete’s immediate nemesis is Asa Surrette, who seeks revenge for articles Alafair once wrote about him. But the killer is a pawn in the hands of powerful men.

This is perhaps Burke’s boldest and most complex novel to date, at once a superb crime story and a literary masterpiece.

— Bruce DeSilva

Associated Press

Lickety Split

Robert Randolph and the Family Band

“Turn it up to 10 and get loud in here,” Robert Randolph sings early in Amped Up, the opening track on Lickety Split, his first studio album with his Family Band in three years and his debut for Blue Note Records. It’s a declaration of purpose: Lickety Split is an amped-up party album that rarely pauses for breath.

Randolph is a peerless pedal steel player, and his roots in the sacred steel church tradition surface in Born Again, a secular love song that crosses classic gospel lyrics with Stephen Stills’ Love the One You’re With.

Throughout the album, Randolph’s leads dazzle, but the songs themselves are secondary, and he’s much more forceful and personable as a guitarist than as a singer, which is less of a distraction when heard live than from the studio. This is an album built for the jam-band circuit, foregrounding rousing blues and funk grooves, from a perky cover of the Ohio Players’ Love Rollercoaster to the note-bending guitar jam Brand New Wayo, one of two tracks with Carlos Santana.

— Steve Klinge

Philadelphia Inquirer


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