Cowboy Jack Clement,
Guess Things Happen That Way
(Dualtone, 2004)

This CD is magic. The songs that strike me change with each listen, as does the overall feel of the album. First time: sad. Second listen: joyous. Third listen: addicted. Cowboy Jack Clement, legendary producer, has produced his own legendary CD.

Clement learned guitar and Dobro at early age, and by 13 added steel guitar. He learned banjo while serving as a U.S. Marine in Washington, D.C., from 1948 to 1952. He started his official music career at Sun Records, moved to Beaumont, Texas, and eventually moved to Nashville where he worked with Chet Atkins -- the first of many legends.

CJC is a songwriter, producer, publisher, artist and executive. No wonder there were 26 years between CD releases; his debut album, All I Want to Do in Life, was Country Music Magazine's album of the year in 1978.

CJC discovered Jerry Lee Lewis, recorded Roy Orbison's first hit and headlined shows opened by Elvis Presley. Working in tiny Sun Studio, he produced three tracks on U2's Grammy-winning Rattle & Hum CD. At the Cowboy Arms Hotel & Recording Spa, Cowboy's home-studio-office in Nashville "where the coffee's always on," he has hosted hundreds of sessions, jams and rehearsals over the years. Imagine the inspiration born in that room!

The CD is a career showcase -- tunes from every era, in a mix of styles: there's swing, bluegrass, country and rock. Two songs he wrote and engineered for Johnny Cash "Guess Things Happen That Way" and "Ballad of a Teenage Queen" -- appear on the CD. Via computer technology, Cash himself sings the back-up vocals. Also included are several covers, including the Rolling Stones "No Expectations," the lead-off track.

Perhaps explaining the 26 years between his albums, Cowboy's own tip is "good songs get better with age." At any rate, his weathered and slightly wobbly voice adds character to the songs, from the rollicking and snazzy love tune, "It'll Be Me" to "There Ain't a Tune," which is practically a lullaby. While his voice isn't the strongest instrument on the disc, it brings the right emotional tone to each tune.

Cowboy's Ragtime Band (Kenny Malone, Bobby Wood, Shawn Camp, Dave Roe, Billy Burnette and Jay Patten, cohorts of more than a quarter-century) supplements Cowboy's own rhythm guitar. Their tightness and perfect balance emphasize both the relationship and the joy of playing together for so many years.

With 25 listens, I'm still finding something new each time. At the moment it's the exuberance of "Carrot Juice." It's a must-have disc in nearly any collection.

by Michelle Doyle
7 April 2007

Buy it from