Bryan Clark is on a mission to prove that southern culture does not have to be an oxymoron. His new Southern Intermission is bold and progressive, braced against the tide of redneck rehash in today’s country and Americana music. Clark, Texas native now Nashville based singer/songwriter/guitarist/producer, reads e.e. cummings and James Joyce and enjoys the intellectual exercise of rewriting terse Elizabethan sonnets in his own words. “I like people who are really concise with language and can paint something that’s outside the margins.” Clark has met his own criteria in this, his strongest release yet.
Southern Intermission addresses unblinkingly the themes of faith, women and southern culture. Clark pays homage to recording techniques of the great southern labels Sun, Stax and Muscle Shoals; is inspired by the kick ass energy of ’70s rock bands that played as if their lives depended on it; and yet he never yields to a preservation mentality anchored in the past.
“We tracked live using vintage outboard gear that would have been prevalent in those studios, and we went back and used ribbon microphones,” Clark said. “I didn’t record with EQ on any instrument when we tracked. So if I didn’t get the sound we wanted, I changed or moved it until I got it – old school.
The album honks, stomps and declares it’s presence with the opening track, “Voodoo Flame.” In an oblique homage to the Big Easy that’s anything but easy, it celebrates the deep emotions of a northern man who comes under the spell of a woman with the potent combination of Haitian charm and Catholic doctrine until “her dirty sweet kisses put pins in my side.”
The autobiographical “Alabama Macedonia Black Water Church of Christ” details Clark’s baptism into a world of faded white steeples, a graveyard of tilting stones and the preacher’s daughters who tie ribbons around this eight-year-old’s hands and kiss in the kudzu. With an infectious melody that screams crossover, the song does for southern fundamentalism in a contemporary setting what John Mellencamp’s “Little Pink Houses” did for the heartland decades ago.
An unflinching look at a world of the profound and the profane as seen by a wide-eyed young boy: Nicotine fingers and jailhouse tattoos/The bloodstained, insane, bankrupt and abused/They went blind into the water/But came out right/At the Alabama Macedonia Blackwater Church of Christ.
“Walls of Hell” blurs the distinctions between rock and Americana with a powerful delivery and strong dynamics. In the song Satan redecorates Hell. A drunken man wakes up as a soul board that bears the weight of the walls. A drug-addled woman becomes plaster for dry wall. Another is a thief who makes rendezvous with choir boys. He becomes the painting on the wall. “So, you get the complete picture,” says Clark, “framing, dry wall, and decorating. Bang, it’s done and hell is this exploding metropolis in my mind.”
“Southern Amen” is Clark’s tribute to New Orleans with specific references to Bibles on the dashboard, RC Cola, moon pies and dry rub barbecue. It’s a solidly constructed rocker that has the feel for the energy of the ’70s, a time when bands didn’t make apologies. They could play their asses off without toning or dumbing it down. Clark demonstrates his slide guitar virtuosity reminiscent of Duane Allman, Ry Cooder and Derek Trucks.
With Southern Intermission, he’s found his voice and a home for his muse. “I’m trying to make the world a better place through the power of music.”