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Roy Clark
Live At Billy Bob's Texas
(Smith Group/Razor & Tie)

To many people, Roy Clark remains an enigma of sorts. Most of you readers may know Clark from watching Hee-Haw with the grandparents when you were a tot or on the occasional Beverly Hillbillies re-run. You probably don't know diddly about him or the music...you just know the name, Roy Clark. That is why Roy Clark is a pop culture icon. He's this mysterious name that pops up from time to time, and you may wonder why. I'll tell you why: Roy Clark is one Hell of a picker. He can do some serious banjo pickin'. Now before you turn up your nose at this, you gotta remember that this crazy bluegrass music informed a lot of early rock musicians. If it wasn't for fancy pickin' by his earlier contemporaries, there would be no blazing-hellfire guitar solos that were explored in rockabilly, which mutated into modern rock. But, rest assured; on this live record he keeps to the guitar to showcase his talents.

Live At Billy Bob's Texas is a solid foundation and schooling in the intricacies of Roy Clark. Recorded at the famous bar/rodeo ring/honky tonk, this disk represents most of the great Clark tunes, a bit of comedy in addition to that white-hot pickin'. Although the intro is cheezed up a bit, Clark busts out of the gate immediately on the Duke Ellington standard "Caravan." His smooth tone and ease of playing exhibit his now trademark style of jabbing and stabbing those notes. But this number shows only just a small part of his abilities. There is a well of emotion waiting to explode from the grooves of "Riders In The Sky," a now standard tune that owes as much to rock as it does to country. His band also exhibits their abilities on songs like "Roanoke," where Clark and his guitar trade licks with the fiddler and the steel player. His backing vocalists aid his presentation of the classic country number "Making Believe." He also turns the stage over to Jimmy and James Henley (banjo and guitar, respectively) for a speedy rendition of the standard "Foggy Mountain Breakdown." This one's a hoe-down in a box. Then Clark takes up a challenge and goes into "Dueling Banjos" with Jimmy (after a long Hee-Haw styled comedy bit involving instrumental high jinx.) This is where Clark shines as they trade licks back and forth, attempting to outdo each other at every turn-and it's obvious that they're having fun. Clark busts out with the anti-work song "I Never Picked Cotton," which is a bittersweet yet rebellious tune (with the traditional sad country ending.) You'll also get his number one hit "Come Live With Me." Clark and his band even tackle non-country numbers "Lara's Theme" and "Moscow Nights" with aplomb. How's that for versatility? Not everything hits on this record-there's some sappy numbers like "Love Takes Two," and "Yesterday When I Was Young," which exhibit strong musicianship, but also a touch of droll country style (and his singing isn't quite what his pickin' is.) You may want to skip these couple of numbers to focus on Clark's instrumental strengths.

It's easy to see why Clark has transcended the generations to still be the figure that he is. As with any pop culture icon, there's an element of cheeze that is to be expected. But with Roy Clark, he uses it to his advantage and never becomes a mockery of himself and his bits of humor between songs are kitchy without being stupid-just like Hee-Haw--but it does not overwhelm his virtuosity. This is a valuable start if you're wanting a taste of the Clark style and sound. Clark has made a career introducing folks young and old, punk and rocker, all about hillbilly music. We should all take notice of his favor to us all.

-tom topkoff

Track Listing:
1. Caravan
2. Love Takes Two
3. Roanoke
4. Come Live With Me
5. Thank God And Greyhound
6. Riders In The Sky
7. I Never Picked Cotton
8. Foggy Mountain Breakdown
9. Dueling Banjos
10. Moscow Nights
11. Lara's Theme
12. El Cumbanchero
13. If I Had To Do It All Over Again
14. Making Believe
15. Salty Dog Blues
16. Yesterday When I Was Young
17. Malaguena


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