Blaze Foley: “Clay Pigeons” Review
In just a few short days Secret Seven records will be releasing a new compilation of little- known country singer Blaze Foley’s collected works. While many of the songs have been released before, a large portion will also be seeing vinyl for the first time. A history of bad luck kept many Foley releases on the shelf during his turbulent recording career. It’s just a shame that the artists isn’t alive today to see the day when he finally catches a break (Foley died of a gunshot wound in 1989). He might have written a song about it. And chances are, if he did, he’d find a way (purposely or not) to make even the good news sound sad. For while Foley often brought as much hope as he did tragedy to his songwriting, even his happiest works are tinged with the melancholy that Foley earned from a lifetime of difficulty.
Foley (born Michael David Fuller) dealt with tough issue all his life (drugs, booze, homelessness) and as a result his oaky baritone conveys a tremendous sense of weight while his skillfully picked guitar always seems to find the most woebegone notes. The titular track of this collection “Clay Pigeons” is a story of making a new start. Foley sings of hopping on a bus, meeting new people, and starting over. And as hopeful as this sentiment feels, Foley’s words still contain an ache to them that can only be attributed to what is being left behind.
More often than not though Foley doesn’t even sound hopeful. Some of his most emotionally stirring work comes in heartbreaking tunes about loves frittered away and lost. In “For Anything Less” it’s impossible not to be powerfully affected by lines like “I know so many arms that are waiting just to hold you / but noone could want to hold you more than me.” Not because the words are incredibly poetic so much as because of the deep despair behind them. “My Reasons Why,” is similarly an emotional heart-wringer and is included here in a live recorded version that’s profoundly spare and unpolished.
Clay Pigeons also contains a few of Foley’s nods towards political songwriting. Most notably “Oval Room” which seems to be addressed to Reagan but deals with the same issues we’re currently facing today (big business’s influence on American politics). “Election Day” isn’t quite as straightforward in its criticism, and it’s also a bit of an odd man out concerning the rest of the record since Foley’s voice sounds about an octave lower than it does in the rest of the recordings.
As far as tragic stories go – Foley seems to share a certain aesthetic as well as a history of bad decisions with his friend and contemporary Townes Van Zandt. Van Zandt even joked that he had to dig up Foley’s grave in order to get the pawn ticket for the deceased artist’s guitar, a morbid story that was later reflected in Van Zandt’s own tragic life. Townes though was only one of Foley’s many admirers. Others include Lucinda Williams, John Prine, Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson, all of whom have covered Foley’s tunes at one time or another. Considering how many people were touched by Blaze Foley’s songs it’s a real pity he never saw as much success as many of his peers. Hopefully now that more of his recordings are coming to light though we can appreciate Foley for what he was: one of the country’s most talented country singer/songwriters.
— Jon Behm
Clay Pigeons will be available on 11/8 on Secret Seven Records