Jim Clark's Buried Land
Eternal Delight Productions, 2003.
$15.99 (compact disc).
Jim Clark has a well-deserved regional reputation as a poet, essayist, and teacher. Buried Land proves that his abilities as a musician are also remarkable, but beyond that, the beautifully produced compact disc is an ambitious attempt to connect the poet's use of language, image, and meter with a deep and nearly lost tradition. Clark is a competent reader of his spare and beautifully crafted poems, and his interpretation of traditional music in the Old Time style is even better. In "Dark Hollow" and "Sweet Sunny South," for instance, he maintains the dignity of the original tempo of Old Time as well as anyone I have heard, and after over two decades as a volunteer at the Blue Ridge Institute I have heard many. These two songs and the booklet of poem texts neatly stowed in the package are the best features of this effort. On the other hand, "Barbara Allen" and one or two other songs suffer from just a bit too much emphasis on the English ballad sound. There he almost crosses the line into sentimental nostalgia, but even then Clark's versatility and mastery as a musician come through clearly as he plays everything from harmonica to dulcimer.
Of course, nostalgia is the beast that must be battled whenever Southern writers—and musicians—address heritage. Clark wins this battle in the music, in the photographs on the cover, and especially in the poems. He is neither an innocent nor a Nashville wannabe. As he says in "Return":
I have been gone a long time
but not far
even so there are changes
and I am beginning to understand
the ways of pilgrims
and what is written
behind their eyes.