Guy Clark's "Cold Dog Soup" is the Texas singer-songwriter's first studio album since 1995's "Dublin Blues" and his best since 1992's "Boats to Build." The new album benefits both from a new crop of finely crafted songs and from a recording process that captures Clark at his most relaxed and personable.

The singer-guitarist joined his touring partners, Darrell Scott and Verlon Thompson, in a Nashville studio and cut the basic vocal, acoustic guitar and mandolin tracks as if they were sitting around the living room, as they so often are. A few spare overdubs--most notably by harmony singer Emmylou Harris--were added, and that was that. Less cluttered than his earlier studio albums and less erratic than his live album, "Cold Dog Soup" presents Clark at his best.

Clark's nine new songs--some of them co-written with Thompson, Jon Randall, Shawn Camp or Mark D. Sanders--include some real gems. "Men Will Be Boys" is a wonderful comic-philosophy song in the vein of "Homegrown Tomatoes," while "Water Under the Bridge" is a sobering, banjo-studded meditation on the transience of everything in our lives. The title track is a tribute to such colleagues as Tom Waits, Ramblin' Jack Elliott and Townes Van Zandt, portrayed by Clark as "William Butler Yeats in jeans ... full of angst and hillbilly haiku." It's a description that fits Clark himself.

Appearing Friday at the Birchmere.

To hear a free Sound Bite from Guy Clark, call Post-Haste at 202/334-9000 and press 8115. (Prince William residents, call 690-4110.)