If you asked musicians who knew him to describe the late singer-songwriter Mickey Clark in just one word, there’d be choices such as “authentic,” “inspirational,” and “mentor.”
Bluegrass singer-songwriter Aaron Bibelhauser uses all three when he mentions Clark. And he’s doing his best to keep Clark’s memory alive with this week’s independent release of Lovin’ and Leavin’ – A Bluegrass Tribute To Mickey Clark.
Clark, 78, died two years ago in mid-July. He was known mostly for songs of his that were recorded by the Kingston Trio, the Oak Ridge Boys, Jerry Lee Lewis, and many others in the country world.
But along the way, he befriended and mentored a number of bluegrassers from in and around Kentucky, including Sam Bush, Michael Cleveland, and, in the final years of his life, Bibelhauser. Add to that list other bluegrass pickers and singers who admired Clark, and you might think about putting together an all-star tribute.
Fortunately, for the rest of us, Bibelhauser didn’t just think about it. He went out and did it. He brought in Bush, Cleveland, members of Balsam Range (individually and collectively), Michigan songbird Missy Armstrong, Shawn Camp, T. Michael Coleman, Terry Baucom, Thomm Jutz, and others.
It’s not all bluegrass, but it’s all good. If I had to slap a specific label on it, I’d call it Americana/Grasicana, partly for numbers featuring drums and pedal steel. I’m good with that, actually, because while Clark’s portfolio was labeled country back in the day, it would be very much in the Americana style now.
Bibelhauser sings a bit like Clark, a little rough around the edges, but real. Fortunately, you don’t have to take my word for it. Bibelhauser was able to lay his hands on original recording tracks of Clark singing Reasons and Rhymes. That vocal track is included here, surrounded by the same all-star cast that backs Bibelhauser singing lead on many of the CD’s 13 songs. So it’s easy and fun to do your own comparison.
It’s a sentimental favorite for an obvious reason – one last chance to hear Mickey Clark. But there are many other favorites.
My top three, addressed in order of appearance on the CD because it’s too hard to rank them, are You Take The Leavin’ Out of Me, She’s Gone to LA Again, and Bakersfield Wine.
Leavin’ features duet vocals from Missy Armstrong, one of the most overlooked vocalists in bluegrass today. Any song that includes Missy’s voice touches me. But Sam Bush’s Cajun-style fiddle solo would put this song near the top for me no matter who was singing.
The Oak Ridge Boys’ recording of She’s Gone to LA Again marked Clark’s biggest success as a songwriter. But I’m willing to bet he would love this version. Bibelhauser brought his friends from Balsam Range into the studio to lay down the tracks and provide a backbone of four-part harmonies, with Bibelhauser singing lead.
Bakersfield Wine features Shawn Camp doing just about everything – singing lead and playing guitar, resophonic guitar, and fiddle. The only other musician is Bibelhauser, adding backing vocals and guitar.
I want to specifically mention one more song, I’ll Be Loving You For A While, a tribute to love and all of it’s imperfect, complicated moments. Bibelhauser and his wife Cami Glauser, first started working on this duet one morning in July two years ago. That night, they learned that Clark had passed away at home after fighting pancreatic cancer. The bride and groom kept coming back to the song, and their duet here is special.
I could go on at length, but face it, I’m not getting paid by the word to write this, and you’re not being paid to read it (unless you’re at work, in which I should tell you that your boss is coming around the corner).
So I’ll leave it at this. Bibelhauser’s tribute is as authentic and inspirational as Clark’s music was. Somewhere, I reckon, Mickey Clark is giving an appreciative smile for his student.