Not just Texas-fried turkey Desperado comes to town Not just Southern- fried Warmth for a stranger in town

FOLK Guy Clark Elmwood Hall, Belfast
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The Independent Culture
Guy Clark started life in a one-horse town in west Texas and, kicking off with the still definitive Old No 1 in 1975, has thus far slipped out a taut eight albums in 21 years. This, combined with a fine line in Clint Eastwood-like "man-with-no-name" demeanour, amounts to a text-book approach to forging and maintaining a certain kind of songwriting reputation. A legion of better-known artists such asNanci Griffith, Emmylou Harris, Vince Gill and Lyle Lovett have feted Clark's name, guested on his albums on something close to rent-a-devotee numbers and covered his material for years. Yet the man seems doomed to play out the role of quintessential cult figure.

And a role it is, for while fellow Lone Star legend Townes Van Zandt just had to turn up (in body if not in mind) at this venue a year ago to generate an electric atmosphere, Clark had to work on stage. He obligingly donned the porous raincoat of his "living legend" status - however ridiculous it must seem to him on a day-to-day basis - and harmlessly fortified it with wry witticisms, body language and a little gentle sparring with the audience. Where Van Zandt is a genuine wild card, a vacationing-on- Venus maverick, Clark is simply a better-than-average craftsman who never shoved his way around Nashville and always called himself a folk-singer anyway.

Whatever his generic preference, Clark proved himself a good entertainer, eliciting a warm response in a cavernous, charisma-sapping auditorium, largely used for Ulster Orchestra rehearsals. "Feels like a church in here," he mused. "Nobody throwin' stuff..."

Accompanied by his son Travis, whose superb, melodic work on the fretless bass added welcome textural depth to essentially simple chord progressions, Clark encouraged requests and got them by the bagful. His guitar playing was rudimentary and his actual guitar sound quite horrible, but when it all connected with top-drawer material, the results were transcendent. His charged performance of debut-album perennials "Desperado Waiting for a Train" and "Let Him Roll" left their more polished interpretations standing. Alternating between Woody Guthrie-esque "talking" ballads such as the truly heart-breaking "Randall Knife" (about his own late father and the process of grief) and more lightweight-sounding numbers in the swinging, Jerry Jeff Walker idiom, there was a combination of terrific quality and the odd turkey ("Homegrown Tomatoes", anyone?) in both.

Two songs from his recent Dublin Blues album - "Stuff That Works" and "The Cape", a song about trying to fly as a child and progressing to the leaps of faith necessary for self-belief and betterment in later life - were disguised in throwaway tunes and constructed from disarmingly banal couplets, but they illustrated beautifully the nature of Clark's particular brand of genius.