For Once and For All
I.R.S. Nashville

For more than five decades Cowboy Jack Clement was Nashville’s Jesus of cool and Music City’s direct link to the magic of Sun Studios, where he served as right-hand man to Sam Phillips and discovered Jerry Lee Lewis. His Cowboy Arms Hotel and Recording Spa was a required stop — and serious hang — for anyone in country music and beyond who was interested in receiving tutelage in genuine C&W artistry and making music for its own sake. His passing in August 2013 at age 82 was truly the end of era. Given his revered and beloved stature, it’s no surprise that what was only his third album, recorded not long before his death, drew some 25 artists of various star levels (too numerous to list here, but let’s just say everyone from Bobby Bare to Emmylou Harris to Vince Gill to T Bone Burnett to Dan Auerbach to Del McCoury) and a good dozen or so master studio players to play and sing behind him. Of course, that many cooks in the kitchen is often a recipe for disaster, which makes the real surprise about For Once and For All the fact that it’s not a trainwreck. Instead, it’s a sweetly seamless and organically rolling collection of 12 of Cowboy Jack’s songs, including oft-recorded hits you may have heard before like “Miller’s Cave,” “Got Leaving on Her Mind,” and “Just a Girl I Used to Know.” Clement’s voice is dead center and well atop the subtly inspired instrumental mix, just as it should be, allowing his deceptively relaxed as well as warm and friendly vocals to reveal his ingenious and emotionally potent phrasing and delivery. The hardwood strength of his compositions and his keen aim for expressing the heart and soul of his lyrics in his singing attest to his wisdom about what makes country that’s classic. And the end result is, indeed, a classic country album — and one that bids fond and touching farewell to Nashville’s most soulful music maker from the day he arrived there in 1959. — ROB PATTERSON