Monday, 9 March 2015

The Byrds: Solo/Live/Compilation Albums Part Three of Four (Gulp!) 1978-1991




McGuinn, Clark and Hillman Featuring Crosby "Live At The Boarding House"
(Sierra Briar, Recorded February 1978, Released May 2014)
Silver Raven/Release Me/Bound To Fall/It Doesn't Matter/The Ballad Of Easy Rider/Jolly Roger/Chestnut Mare/Crazy Ladies/Train Leaves Here This Morning/Mr Tambourine Man/You Ain't Goin' Nowhere/Turn! Turn! Turn!/Knockin' On Heaven's Door/Bye Bye Baby/So You Want To Be A Rock and Roll Star?/Eight Miles High/I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better
"You makes us feel like we're doin' alright for old people!" (Gene Clark Stage Announcement)
Following on from the '3 Byrds' tour, McGuinn and Clark dissolved their respective bands and toured together with a new one, occasionally joined by Chris Hillman when a tour he'd already booked allowed. Getting three Byrds back in one place in 1977 had been strange enough and wasn't without incident, what with the 'planned reunion' at the end abandoned at many shows due to drunken-ness, confusion and battles over money. However not only did the trio replicate this against all odds for a number of shows in 1978, they even had David Crosby along to one as a 'special guest' at this San Franciscan show, with four of the original five back together again for the first time since 1973 (nobody seemed to have asked drummer Michael Clarke). Minds of longterm fans must have been blown - and that's largely what you can hear from the crowd on this noisy recording, once a bootleg but now an official CD. However, saying that, how lucky was it that this unannounced four way reunion was recorded at all, The Byrds having the foresight to book an airing on radio station KSAN, a release long overdue.
I've often wondered why Crosby wasn't part of the Mcguinn-Hillman-Clark band. While he had his differences with the others - and them with him - he was a free agent following the 1977 CSN LP and wasn't yet as far gone into his drug hell as would become in the 1980s. He was also an enthusiastic supporter of any Byrds get togethers. moaning constantly throughout the ages that he was ready to play with The Byrds at the drop of a hat but Roger didn't want to. However you get the feeling too that Roger didn't actually want to re-create The Byrds at all - that McGuinn-Clark-Hillman was taken up for commercial reasons more than creative ones and that Roger was trying to revive the slump in his career with the help of some old friends. In which case, why not bring the star attaction Crosby along to? David sounds remarkably at home on this recording, happy to fall in with the set list his colleagues have cooked up for him and adding some slightly hazy but nicely done harmonies to a number of old favourites, including a few he never sang on originally (this is the only place where you can hear him sing 'You Ain't Goin' Nowhere'  - or Gene for that matter - and Roger's mid-70s favourite Dylan cover 'Knockin' On Heaven's Door' (which is here sung alternted between McGuinn and Clark). This is also the first time that any of The Byrds revive 'Mr Tambourine Man' with the extra verses missing from their version of the record and which makes the song - played by McGuinn Clark and Hillman as part of their solo live sets off and on - more of a democratic performance, with each man taking a verse. Sadly there's no room for Crosby, but he still sounds great on the choruses and Clark especially sounds at home on this more laidback, folkier arrangement, although sadly everyone else sounds out of place on McGuinn's rather bland rocker 'Bye Baby Bye'. This four-piece reunion then goes on to do 'So You Want To Be A Rock and Roll Star?', the first time Crosby would have sung it since the 'Monterey Pop Festival' (and the first time Gene would have sung it since his brief return to the band in 1968). The band try to leave the stage, but the crowd aren't having any of it and bring the band back out for tweo more encores: a fiery 'Eight Miles High' (sadly about the shortest any of the live Byrds ever did it, at just four minutes - as 1970 style jamming session with this line up would have been quite something!) and a fan-pleasing 'I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better'. Fascinating, if flawed, the sheer emotional impact of this mini-reunion makes up for any holes in the performance and is clearly the big selling point.
However that's far from the only reason to own this CD, which even before Crosby takes to the stage features a far more unified performance than '3 Byrds Live In London' and catches the trio on a much better night. Clark starts the show with a stunning solo version of 'Silver Raven' followed by the then-unreleased track 'Release Me Girl' Hillman starts the show with two Manassas songs and performs them almost solo, with just vocalist Kim O'Kelly with his regular band alongside him. He then hands over to Roger, who delights the crowd with a rare solo reading of 'The Ballad Of Easy Rider, his fun solo sea shanty 'Jolly Roger' and a crowd-pleasing 'Chestnut Mare'. The trio then unite, oddly starting with another couple of Clark songs, making Gene by far the hiughest profile member of this gig. However this passage, with Clark backed by Mcguionn and Hillman, is easily the best performance here featuring the exclusive-to-this-set 'Crazy Ladies' (an unusually brittle, simple rocker for Gene) and a gorgeous 'Train Leaves Here This Morning'. All in all, and against all odds, The Byrds are back in full flight and this is a highly welcome performance to have, even with the odd bum note and slightly faded sound. A night to treasure, it's just a shame that this reunion, which starteds with such a bang, will never quite live up to this moment again...

                                                                                     1979
"McGuinn, Clark and Hillman"
 (Capitol,  'Mid' 1979)
Long Long Time/Little Mama/Don't You Write Her Off/Surrender To Me/Backstage Pass//Stopping Traffic/Feelin' Higher/Sad Boy/Release Me Girl/Bye Bye Baby
"There's a stage for every star of the show and there's a show for every stage"
Well that was unexpected. After years of warfare and a decade apart three of The Byrds got back together again in 1979 to make a studio record, despite the fact that there was still so much bad blood between the trio that the 1977 concert tour had fallen apart in acrimony and court writs and once again Crosby was missing despite being more enthusiastic about the idea than anyone (he'd even signed to Capitol as a solo act himself earlier in the year, although he never did release anything on the label). This album seems like the woirst timing in the world for a get-together: Roger was a devout born-again purging himself of all bad influences; Gene was at the peak of his boozing and drugging years, although he did make an effort to get clean to tour this album; Chris is in the middle, slowly turning to religion after Roger's lead but with drug binges every so often that maches Clark for excess. You wonder what on earth the trio talked about in-between takes, as they had very little in common by 1979 except their past - and their past was something that plays an inordinately small part of this record. When McGuinn-Clark-Hillman came out fans were hoping for prime Byrds (the trio occasionally mentioned wanting to get back to where 'Notorious Byrd Brothers' had left off) and if not that then at least something in that vein, halfway between traditoonal folk and hard rock - the two extremes between McGuinn and Clark's live bands in this period (again poor Chris is trapped somewhere in the middle). Instead they got a new-look version of their 1973 reunion album for a younger crowd that was unashemedly pop and at times verged on disco.
On reflection the worst thing to happen to this album was that it was released by the band together, with all that weight behind it. So adamant were the three not to rely on past successes (and they were all determined not to use The Byrds name, despite the fact that more of the original band were here than at any time since 1967!) that 'McGuinn-Clark-Hillman' actually has less in common with The Byrds sound than any of the trio's solo albums from the decade. Roger revealed later that the original plan was to do an 'updated' Byrds, but that the producers Ron and Howard Albert decided to replace the band with session musicians, complaining that he was left 'on the bench' during the making of his own album (the same being true to a lesser extent of the others). If true (and not just the result of an interviewer catching Roger in a 'down' mood - because it's an odd move for a pair of producers who'd worked so solidly with Hillman's band Manassas and usually loved spontaneity and rough edges) then that's a tragedy, robbing us fans of what should have been at least three albums of pure Byrd-dom (perhaps wioth Crosby guesting by album two?) Roger, Gene and Chris surely had half an eye on the success of CSN when they agreed to this album and did at least have a better claim to becoming a 'new' supergroup than the artificallty created Souther-Hillman-Furay Band. Yet the trio passed on this possibility too, ending up with an album that doesn't sound like CSN either (despite the sterling work the Albert Brothers had done on the trio's 1977 record 'CSN'). Instead it sounds like the sort ofsurface-level pop rubbish everyone else at the time was making.  The effect is like a company (let's call it a Byrdseed company) going to all the trouble of announcing to the press that it's bought a famous old brand that everyone loved, hiring the same people who used to work there and delivering a similar style of product - only when everyone gets it the product simply tastes like an inferior version of their rivals'. What's the point?
However, take what this album could have been out of the equation and replace with it a 'phew - against the odds they went and did it, however it turned out' attitude and you do get more out of this record. I'd be the first fan to hold my hands up and call this set disappointing and it would have been better still had the three actually worked together instead of sticking to their own songs (most of the tracks use anonymous backing singers on harmonies; had Hillman learnt nothing from the S-H-F Band, whose second album was a vast improvement for that very reason?) However all three men deliver some strong material, with all three men on various creative highs after better-than-average solo LPs in 1977 and 1978. Clark can't quite match his 'reunion' pair of songs but he's clearly on the best form, somehow managing to meet his colleagues halfway with a series of songs that remaind daring and colourful yet far more accessible than what he'd been writing of late. Hillman's lagging a little behind the beauty and power of 'Clear Sailin' but is clearly still doing a lot of thinking rather than cruising on auto-pilot and his cover song 'Surrender To Me' may well be the album's highlight. McGuinn, restricted to just two songs, seems badly underused but at least he got the album's hit single, the bland but catchy 'Don't You Write Her Off', the one song on the album where the threesome work together rather than apart. The overall feeling? It could (probably) feel a whole lot better than this - but it could also be a whole lot worse. The trio had a throw of the dice after various problems in their careers (all three had lost record contracts for their solo work with major labels) and rolled about a three: enough not to damage their reputation but not enough to make the world excited about their music again. The trio will give it another two shots over the next two years (with Gene leaving midway the second album) just in case and this album is arguably the best by a nose, thanks mainly to Clark's songwriting and Hillman's vocal on 'Surrender To Me'. However, it's closer than many fans think and far from being the travesty this record is often painted out to be it's simply a little underwhelming, three talents coming together and instead of multiplying each other's work as hoped they simply come out the other side with a passable solo album between them. While not released on CD directly, fans in the modern era can still buy this album thanks to a series of compilations out on Capitol in the 1990s and 00s: the first is 'Return Flight' Volumes One and Two, which splits all three albums between two discs and 'The Capitol Collection', which features all the songs (plus a nice demo of 'Surrender To Me') in the correct order on a double-set.
Hillman's 'Long Long Time' is a percussion-heavy piece that would have fitted nicely onto the second Manassas album 'Down The Road'. The opening line is 'talk that same old talk again', but despite that nod to nostalgia this is a very modern opening track. It's pleasant but not very memorable apart from the tension built up during the middle eight. A dull plod of a guitar solo could have been infinitely improved had McGuinn added some jazzy licks to it.
Clark's 'Little Mama' is the singer's most ordinary song on the album and one of the weakest tracks here, coming to life only on the chorus which features a nicely edgy percussive drum track 'stolen' wholeheartedly from Paul McCartney's 1976 single 'Let 'Em In' and added at the suggestion of producer Ron Albert. This still isn't quite enough to rescue the song, however, which features hardly any lyric and is sung without conviction by Clark who clearly would much rather be elsewhere.
McGuinn and Byrds writing partner Bob Hippard's calypso-friendly 'Don't You Write Her Off' is the closest thing this album has to a truly memorable song and was a natural choice for the single doing rather well - #33 in the American charts and thus outperforming every Byrds single since 'My Back Pages' in 1967. There's a nicely orchestrated backing to go alongside this silly song that could be interpreted as McGuinn's defensice re-action to years of bad reviews (and might just as easily have read 'don't write me off') and some nice harmony work, but there's still the feeling that this song is passable rather than an inpsired classic. Roger later admitted it was at least partly written as a 'joke', especially the parts about being a 'guru' on a 'desert island'. At least it's Byrds-like though, with memories of some of Roger's beloved sea shanties.
Future Fleetwood Mac member Richie Zito wrote the album's best song, the symphonic 'Surrender To Me' which is sung with aplomb by an inspired Chris Hillman who has just the right feeling of innocence and awe on this track. There's a lovely guitar solo too, bordering on the psychedelic or at least hypnotic, although this is played not by Roger (who would have played it just as well, if not better) but by session musician John Samboretto.
The other album highlight is Gene Clark's 'Backstage Pass', a typically adventurous song which comes with a smoky atmopshere and features a darker, more threatening bass-heavy sound than anything else on the album. While most fans assume this is another of Gene's love songs for love of his life Terri Messina ('Tell your girlfriend there's a party in town') I've always viewed this as another comment on his diffcult year of 1966 when he left The Byrds. We start with Gene about to make the hardest decision of his life and one he still isn't sure was the right one or not, 'ten feet or not from the judgement day - ten feet away from the runway' which he'll flee after declaring he 'can't fly'. Gene's career since then has swicthed between extremes, the solitary life of the hotel rooms and travelling, 'a stone for every hole in the road' perhaps a sly not of the head to his addictions which is enhanced when a Califirnian girl with a 'ticket to ride' (by now very much drug slang, whether The Beatles meant that in 1965 or not!) Gene is wasted, in all meanings of the word - but then he hits the stage in the chorus and it all comes good, alwaking out to taped applause and a snappy 'hey-oh!' riff, 'the star of the show' once again. It's almost as if Gene set out to write an even more honest account of 'Full Circle', his reunion song from the last time The Byrds got together and it remains easily the best original composition on this mixed album.
Onto side two and Hillman's 'Stopping Traffic' is a frenetic start to side two with the harsher, more aggresive sound of next M-C-H project 'City'. There's a very 'city' theme too: a good-time girl (maybe even a prostitute) is out for a night out on the town, her promises and allegiances switching like the colours on a traffic light sign. This song is fun, but slight - it gets an amber from me.
Clark's 'Feelin' Higher' is another fascinating if rather less successful song. Written with girlfriend Terri Messina it starts off as a typical song of devotion, about the apir's ability to pull each other out of a 'scalding sea'. However the pair had also had another experience that brought them closer together, having been followed by lights in the sky after one of Roger and Gene's joint shows in 1978, waiting for Chris to finish his commitments. The second verse of this song is truly weird, Clark reflecting on humans 'hiding from the dawn of the radiant day' and adding with 'No Other' style wisdom that 'we will ascend when we can bend with space and time'. Alas the music brings us down to Earth with a bump, full of bland female backing singers, clonky piano playing and a hideous orchestral arrangement. The most memorable section is a  piano/percussive fade out (not unlike something Manassas would have done) which apparently lasted for ten full minutes before being cut down.
Hillman's 'Sad Boy' is the best of his three actual compositions on the album, another up-tempo song (how good would 'Clear Sailin' have been with this many rockers attached to it?) and the one that sounds like it comes from the heart. Hillman pleads with someone (The band? Us?) to 'accept me for what I am', admitting that he's still searching for 'respect'. Hillman sings in the third person though so might mean someone else - Gram Parsons perhaps? Alas after an excellent opening with a first verse and chorus this is one of those Hillman songs that doesn't go anywhere, repeating both over and over until the fade.
Clark's 'Release Me Girl' had been heard on both the '3 Byrds' and Clark's own concerts since 1977 and word of mouth was growing among fans that it was his best composition in a very long time. The song is indeed something special, Clark reflecting that 'at one time I thought I had all the answers' before adding a fan friendly line in 'I know it's your turn, turn, turn...' Alas the band irrepairably ruion this song in the studio, adding an irrtating disco beat and horns this sweet understated song really doesn't need and Gene's disctinctive writing style - only heard otherwise on 'Backstage Pass' - has been lost again, overwritten with bland sacrifices to the cult of commerciality. Clark deserved better. His fans did too.
The album ends with only Roger's second song, the singalong 'Bye Bye Baby' - a sort of 'Chestnut Mare' for the modern age with the narrator losing the horse (and as a metapohor his woman) yet again. There's also fan-friendly references to 'rivers' and 'changing seasons' - so much a part of Roger's lexicon during the late period Byrds albums - and yet this song is like those great songs without quite matching them. The melody is weak and drifts past without you really noticing, despote being smothered in another posh string arrangement. Actually this wasn't Roger's original intention - he'd been hoping to get Hillman to add some mandolin to the song - but a visiting Mike Lewis (who'd worked with Hillman and knew the band well from their connections to 'Firefall') visited the studio one day and wrote the string and flute part out unprompted, though luckily Roger liked the effect when he heard it back.
And that's that. Not too awful - but not too brilliant either, with only the last three songs on side one reallty displaying anything close to the peaks McGuinn Clark and Hillman had been achieveing in their solo careers, never mind as The Byrds. Nobody was that happy with the album after it was done and after 'Write Her Off' both 'Backstage Pass' and 'Surrender To Me' flopped in the charts, but the band and label were encouraged enough to keep going, for now...

Gene Parsons "Melodies"
(Sierra,  'Mid' 1979)
My Kingdom For A Car/Melodies From A Byrd In Flight/Mama Papa/Won't Last Long/Way Out There/Hot Burrito #1/No Fire Here Tonight/Pasttime/Little Jewels/Why Have You Been Gone So Long?
"When our shadows are growing longer will you remember the good times that we had?"
Few fans  even know about Gene Parsons' second record, which appeared a staggering six years after the first, despite coming quite neatly (and co-incieentally) on the coat-tails of the muchy hyped hoo-hah surrounding the McGiinn-Clark-Hillman reunion. The cause wasn't record company shenanigans (Warner Brothers were keen to keep him after the strong reviews if slow sales for 'Kindling') or a better offer (although the Flying Burritos had kept him busy for a year in 1976) - the cause was a broken heart. Gene is arguably the friendliest of The Byrds and tended to be the one who developed the closest friendships (assuming for the moment that the McGuinn-Crosby love-hate balance isn't covering a 'best buddies' persona neither wants the world to see), looking after John York, becoming best buddies with Skip Battin and generally being the middle-man between McGuinn and the rest of the group. However his life-long friend was Clarence White, a pal he'd known and played with for years before ever joining The Byrds and the pair had been through thick and thin together. When Clarence died - weeks after playing on 'Kindling' and more or less simultaneously with the release of the LP - Gene just didn't have it in him to pick up an instrument. His moving eulogy for his friend's memorail service hints why: 'W'll miss him for the rest of our lives. For myself personally, I'll never be able to play music again without thinking of Clarence'.
However full-time retirement would have been the last thing Clarence would have wanted and Gene slowly came back to the idea of picking up his career where it left off. he even devised a cover for second album 'Melodies' that poked fun at the cover of the first and how many years had gone by: the waiting has been so log that the tiny logs have turned into one great massive tree, with Parsons perched uncomfortably on top! The bad news is that this album isn't always worth the wait; in fact it's closer to the 'McGuinn-Clark-Hillman' LPs than most finds would like, with slick MOR productions that rob Gene of his individuality and a generally less interesting song selection, disappointing with someone who'd been aaway for so long with such time to write. However the good news is that when Gene is emotionally connected to the music, as per his tribute to Clarence on album highlight 'Melodies From A Byrd In Flight' Gene shows again what a strong under-rated songwriter and singer he always was. The lyrics refer to the 'stringbender' invention the pair come up with (and which Gene is still developing  and perfecting , imagining 'harmonies from beyond that complete my song'. Guest Albert Lee (best known as the second guitarist in Eric Clapton's bands) is also a good mimic of Clarence's style, Gene feeling unable to play the part himself. Gene even manages to fit in a tribute to his namesake too, with a cover of Gram's 'Hot Burrito #1' that matches the original (dare I say it, Gene has the better, more expressive voice of the two). Alas these are probably the only two songs worth owning though and this is a peculairly lifeless affair given the wamrth of most of Gene's Byrds recordings. Sadly we were denied a third album, although Gene has continued to tour with his wife in the folkier duo 'Parsons Green' - alas to date their music has tended to have been only sold at gigs rather than receive an official release. Gene deserved better, if not for this album perhaps then for the consistency of his earlier work which managed to combine serious folk tradition swith zany humour and emotional warmth.

"Play Dylan"
(Columbia, November 1979)
Original 1979 Version: Mr Tambourine Man/All I Really Wanna Do/Chimes Of Freedom/Spanish Harlem Incident/The Tines They Are A Changin'/Lay Down Your Weary Tune/My Back Pages//You Ain't Goin' Nowhere/Nothing Was Delivered/This Wheel's On Fire/It's All Over Now Baby Blue/Lay Lady Lay/Positively 4th Street
2002 Version: All I Really Wanna Do/Chimes Of Freedom/It's All Over Now Baby Blue (1965 Version)/Lay Down Your Weary Tune/Lay Lady Lay/Mr Tambourine Man/My Back Pages/Nothing Was Delivered/Positively Fourth Street/Spanish Harlem Incident/The Times They Are A-Changin'/This Wheel's On Fire/You Ain't Goin' Nowhere/It's Alright Ma, I'm Only Bleeding/Just Like A Woman/Lay Lady Lay (Alternate Version)/The Times They Are A Changin' (Alternate Version)/Mr Tambourine Man (Live)/Chimes Of Freedom (Live)/Paths Of Victory
"Lay down your weary tunes, lay down"
Whether you like this compilation or not will depend on what you think The Byrds were for. For fans like me who love The Byrds' exploratory adventures and strong songwriting voices this compilation commits the cardinal sin of reducing one of the most creative bands of their era to the level of being a covers band. Few of The BYrds' Dylan covers offer anything you can't get elsewhere, with 'Mr Tambourine Man' the only truly pioneering moment here (by and large the Dylan covers get less interesting as the years go by, although it's nice to see the stunning live take of 'Positively Fourth Street' from 'Untitled' added to the line-up). However this CD probably wasn't made for the likes of me but for Dylan fans who wondered what a whole record of Dylan cover songs made by a Bob-sanctioned band might sound like. The result is certainly better than most other sources of Dylan cover songs (even the fellow AAA release from 1969 'The Hollies Sing Dylan'  - someone at Columbia clearly knew the record as the title of this one is very similar - can't match the Byrds' vision and sympathy for the material) and offers the Dylan fan a few curios: 'Lay Down Your Weary Tune' (from the 'Times They Are A Changin' album) is an unusual song to cover, while several over Dylan songs (such as 'Paths Of Victory' and 'You Ain't Goin' Nowhere') were recorded by The Byrds first and so argiuably shaped how Dylan recorded them (not that Bob listened to anybody else much!) The Byrds fan, however, will find little to love assuming they own all these recordings anyway - and if they don't then then these songs sound much better in their orignal homes spread out across 12 albums between 1965 and 1972, with the impact of each one lessened a little bit stuck all together.
Byrds biographer Johhny Rogan had a lot to do with the improved re-issues of this album, first with a longer set in 1980 (which put the songs in chronological order) and then again when the album was issued on CD in 2002 (with extra material) and these are the versions to get, with longer playing times and better packaging (the CD for instance adds the 'Untitled' live version of 'Mr Tambourine Man', the 1990 reunion Dylan cover 'Paths Of Victory' and the 1965 faster version of 'It's All Over Now Baby Blue') - although annoyingly even this set isn't complete, skipping the slower 1969 recording of the same song entirely (the 'Easy Rider' soundrack version of 'It's Alright Ma, I'm Only Bleeding' - which while technically credited to McGuinn solo was still performed by The Byrds - would have been welcome too and saved me forking out £15 odd and the horror of having to listen to The Byrds in between Santana and Steppenwolf; the version used here is an inferior live take first released on the 'Untitled' bonus CD). Even the latest CD version is arguably a purchase too far for most Byrds fan however and in all three versions the front cover sleeve (black type against a beige background) is woefully boring for such a colourful poetic band covering such a colourful poetic writer.

                                                                                         1980
Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman Featuring Gene Clark "City"
(Capitol,  'Mid' 1980)
Who Taught The Night?/One More Chance/Won't Let You Down/Street Talk/City//Givin' Herself Away/Deeper In/Painted Fire/Let Me Down Easy
"We spend our time on cheap talk...but then the arrows find their mark"
A lot of things had changed by the time McGuinn Clark and Hillman returned to the studio in 1980, after a year plugging away at their album on tour and for a host of TV stations around the world. As one of these demonstrates - A European performance where Clark gives McGuinn the finger and Roger turns his back on his partner for the full song - the enthusiasm of the first album had all but evaporated by now. Just as in 1966, Gene Clark found himself see-sawing between total commitment to the project (one of his two songs for this album 'Won't Let You Down' is really a promise to the band) and a desire to run as far away from it as possible. In the end he ends up slowly drifting away from the album and doesn't appear on the front cover or as a 'proper' figure in the title (suggesting he'd left by the end - yes, new fans, that is a 1980s mobile phone Roger is holding!), although the others were still keen to use his name and his songs as a selling point. Had the trio hid their collaborations better, as per the first album where they worked alone, then Clark might have had more of a presence on this album but as it turned out this second album features much more intercation between them all, with Roger and Chris actually playing on this album. Another surprise change is how tough and hard-edged this album sounds: gone are the flowery prog rock arrangements and in comes a harder new wave attack, with Hillman especially finding his 'inner punk'. McGuinn's Rickenbacker is thankfully out of it's case and sounds oddly fitting to the proceedingsm whilst Hillman gets to show off his multi-instrumentalist talents too.
This album sounds pleasingly spontaneous in fact, the band dispensing with the often laboured production of it's predecessor and making this album in a few days, as quickly as possible in contrast to the latter's rather laboured feel. Alas, though, this works the other way and the end result feels rushed and unfinished; 'City' isn't then The Byrds equivalent of The Stones' 'Some Girls' or The Kinks' 'Low Budget', the new wave sounds palling after so many similar sounding songs one after another and you get the sense that, try hard as they might, once again the band's heart isn't really in this change of direction. The result is an album every bit as mixed as 'McGuinn Clark Hillman' but with completely different strengths and weaknesses: the band sounding less together even though they actually play as a band more; the band sounding as if they're running out of steam and jumping onto bandwagons even though they're arguably more creative than on the first LP. Take the album's 'theme' - the first Byrds-related project to have a 'theme' since the glory days of 'Sweetheart Of The Rodeo' - that of the country boy lost and alone in the city, which crops up on the second half of the songs McGuinn and Hillman wrote for the album. It's an apt theme for a band finding themselves cast adrift in a whole new world of new wave and synthesisers and draws out the best in both men. However the pair are still eclipsed by Gene Clark, who waves goodbye to his last true turn in the spotlight with a spectacular pair of compositions. The result is another mixed album and lost opportunity and the last time more than two Byrds would be in the same room for another decade.
Hillman's angry 'Who Taught The Night?' is a blistering start with the guitars back loud and centre stage where they should always have been. Lyrically this is Hillman returning to his old hobby of going on long walks while upset, trying to clear his mind, but 'this time the night won't make it right' - the split has gone too far. The walk he heads out on takes a new meaning - he finds himself physically 'standing on the corner' between the two of them, realising the difference between them is now too wide. It's an explosive opener, a world away from the sound of the last LP.
'One More Chance' is a rather odd McGuinn song that comes across like Bob Marley and the Wailers covering Pete Seeger. A repenting religious McGuinn regrets a wasted life of fast cars and women and thanks someone for a new chance - though thankfully the song is left vague so that it might be a paen to a new lover, God or even Clark and Hillman. Roger sounds far more confident singing here than on M-C-H but the track's sudden switch from reggae to pop isn't quite as smooth as it ought to be.
The stunning 'Won't Let You Down' is Clark's open message to his colleagues, offering up 'a song I wrote yesterday - so new it ain't got a name'. He agrees with McGuinn that 'a life of whiskey and wine was fine, for a while' but that he's moved past that now, upped his game and can be relied upon. He even sees a gypsy to tell his fortune, but she disagrees - telling Clark's narrator that he already has all he needs to find the 'answer' and turn his life around. Wioth some lovely McGuinn guitar and a melody halfway between folk and pop this is easily the most Byrds-like of the M-C-H songs and is a testament to how heavily Clark tried to change in this period, before his old demons and bad ways caught up with him once too often.
'Street Talk' is a fast and frenetic Hillman song that once more finds him feeling deeply lost in a strange new city landscape where everybody has their own language and 'plays by their rules'. The song keeps thretending to get going, with some pealed guitar crunches that are mightily impressive, but somehow this song doesn 't match Chris' other tracks on the album. Is there a hint at the split, though, with the line in the first verse 'An old friend of yours just got back into town...she's come back to haunt you, talking real fast!'
Roger's 'City' ends the first side with a third look at this theme, a song that can't decide whether it loves or hates life in the city, run at a different speed. The song is sung with a patois haiku-style phrases that suggests McGuinn is trying to translate a language he doesn't understand, a technqiue which is very clever when everything comes together on the city and the song suddenly runs at a 'proper' speed without the stop-starts of the verses. The narrator sees the twinkling lights of the high rise buildings, declares them 'pretty' and finds her way in this cold alien environment - she even 'meets a man, but it's just pretend' , going round the houses again with this cruel false hope. The song ends happily, though, where 'night life brings it's end, daylight brings a friend'. Roger's best song in many a logn year (1974?) is a delight, especially his glittering lead vocal and 'Eight Miles High' style guitar touches throughout the song, another album highlight.
Alas 'Skate Date' is one of those silly songs about skateboarding loads of our AAA bands suddenly insisted on writing in the late 1970s (this one is rather better than Jefferson Starship's 1978 song 'Skateboard' but not as good as The Beach Boys' 1977 'Roller Skating Child'). Roger was a fan and had been since a boy, but enjoying a hobby doesn't mean you should write about it and the daftest lyric he probably ever wrote seems a poor reward for an actually pretty convincing and tough little backing track, with Hillman sounding particularly good on backing vocals.
Once again McGuinn and Hillman eached out to an outside writer and covered Tom Kimmel and Lynn Tobola's 'Givin' Herself Away'. Roger does a good job at the song, which could easily have been one of his with it's snarling guitar and sudden switch between verse and chorus and the lyric has a clever twist in which the domineering narrator sets off in search of a submissive lover - but ends up finding the girl of his dreams is even more dominant than he is. However the song itself isn't up to the pair's own work on this album.
The impact of the aggressive edges of this album are begin to fade a little now after so many in a row and Hillman's uptempo rocker 'Deeper In', while impressive in its own right, is a little too close to the sound of his other songs to convince in context. 'Only fools look over their shoulder' he snarls, just as Roger's Rickenbacker break comes in, the irony apparently lost.
Gene's final song 'Painted Fire' is one of those Clark songs that's a case of half-brilliance and half-banality. The central idea is clever and again more than a little autobiographical - the girl in the song can only perform when drunk and the talk of the town but she resents the make-up she puts on, the 'painted fire' that allows her to perform. Alas that promising idea is lost in a typical bar-room piano set-up that simply chugs along indifferently, Gene's vocal all too clearly from apoorly recorded  'guide vocal' rather than a properly polished performance. Still, the song fits nicely into the context of an album about the big bad city eating up people out of their comfort zones and in another setting this might have been a nice song.
The album then closes with 'Let Me Down Easy', another Hillman/Knobler song but with McGuinn singing co-lead. A pretty ballad, in stark contrast to the pair's other songs for the album, it's sweet but rather flimsy, Hillman returning to the theme of the opening track by declaring it's over and he's gone in the opening verse and sadly pleading to be let back in by the second after he changes his mind. A quick pedal steel break makes this sound awfully like a Gram Parsons song, pleading that if they have to be 'let down' then let it happen slowly, not overnight like this. Did Hillman also have the band's poor disintegrating relationship with Gene in mind, sighing 'I'm not the first to be leaving - or the last one to know'.
This about the only fully 'quiet' song on an impressively rowdy, noise-making record that comes as asomething of a relief after all that posed prettyness of the first M-C-H record. Which one's better really depends on your personal tastes - do you prefer the dog whose fun and playful but barks so often you can't get any peace, or the pretty but pretty boring poodle who sits there preening herself all the time? While material-wise this album is even weaker, thanks mainly to the loss of Clark, 'City' sounds better and fits together as a whole much more convincigly with it's tales of city life and past regrets. Had the trio completed it as the unified figures Clark declared on 'Won't Let You Down' it might well have been a winner - instead it's another 'nearly' album scoring half-marks. At least, though, this time we had a 'proper' reunion - albeit one that a third of the band walked out on partway through recording - and the band interplay alone makes 'City' a must purchase for anyone who ever wondered what an updated Byrds album might sound like, the disco of the first record now thankfully a distant memory. Just don't expect a perfect album and you'll get on fine.

"The Original Singles Volume One: 1965-1967"
(Columbia,  'Mid' 1980)
Mr Tambourine Man/I Knew I'd Want You/All I Really Want To Do/I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better/Turn! Turn! Turn!/She Don't Care About Time/Set You Free This Time/It Won't Be Wrong//Eight Miles High/Why?/5D (Fifth Dimension)/Captain Soul/Mr Spaceman/What's Happening?!?!?/So You Want To Be A Rock and Roll Star/Everybody Has Been Burned
"Won't you please take me along for a ride?"
I used to love the 'As and Bs' compilations when I was growing up and falling in love with all these bands (especially as second-hand copies of them all were nice and cheap!) A kidn of 'greatest hits' set with a difference, the fact that all the original singles came complete with their respective lesser known B-sides (sometimes two or three depending how many countries messed with a band's discography) always offered a more 'complete' way of getting to know what a band was all about. Given that in the 1960s it was 'normal' to never include singles on albums (although The Byrds, like many American bands, tended to favour putting the B-sides on albums) meant that a lot of these songs were rather rare back in the pre-CD age, unreleased since appearing on 45s twenty odd years before. This Byrds compilation is particularly interesting, offering a way of getting all the key songs you'd expect from The Byrds and sensibly ending (almost) at the natural cut off point at the end of 1967 when David Crosby leaves the band (with a coyple of singles left over). There were two key songs here that Byrd fans really needed in their collections in 1980 and were hard to find any other way: Gene Clark's glorious flipside 'She Don't Care About Time' (the perfect companion to the seasonal A side 'Turn! Turn! Turn!') and the 'B-side' version of Crosby's fiery rocker 'Why?' (the perfect companion to the space-age  'Eight Miles High'). Even the B-sides that had appeared on album ('I Knew I'd Want You' 'What's Happening?!?!?' 'Everybody Has Been Burned') tend to be among the better rarely-heard Byrds songs, although converesely  'Captain Soul' sounds even more lacklustre here next to all this talent than it did on '5D'. Sadly this record is rather redundant now that all these tracks are back out in the shops on their respective albums or as bonus tracks on their respective albums and the CD release was heavily criticised in it's day for poor sound quality and quickly deleted, but if you're a vinyl buff casually interested in The Byrds and come across a copy cheap enough you couldn't ask for a better half-hour retrospective about what the first stage of this band were all about. The set wasn't exactly a huge seller - especially in the States - but was successful enough for a second volume two years later.

                                                                             1981
"McGuinn-Hillman"
(Columbia,  'Mid' 1981)
Mean Streets/Entertainment/Soul Shoes/Between You and Me/Angel//Love Me Tonight/King For A Night/A Secret Side Of You/Ain't No Money/Turn Your Radio On
"I put this message for you in a song, now won't you please turn your radio on?"
The third reunion album is generally regarded as yet another lost opportunity, Determined to get their career back on track after the loss of Gene Clark, Roger and Chris spent a lot of time together working on new songs (based around the theme of 'entertainment' - the Byrds had never written a 'concept' work from scratch before but had enjoyed the 'theme' that slowly formed midway through sessions for 'City') and were preparing to move on even further from their Byrds past. Record label Capitol and producer Jerry Wexler had a different view, though, persuading the duo to record a series of cover songs that were more 'contemporary' and 'soulful' (mainly written by soul writer Dick Cooper, with McGuinn and Hillman getting just three co-writes between them), effecticely taking the band back where they started and with weaker songs. Capitol then added a cover image of a 'Byrd' taking 'flight' for good measure, even though this album arguably has even less of the 'Byrds' sound than the last two. Despite these allowances for changing tastes, the record was an even bigger flop than 'City' and relationships between the two old friends became ever more strained (a man with many relations in the music business, Chris was the brother-in-law of Wexler which didn't sit well with McGuinn who thought he was given preferential treatment, while both hated being groomed as soul artists). The result is actually a lot more enjoyable than it ought to be - Hillman is surprisingly convincing as a soul singer (unusually getting more vocals on the album than his partner), while McGuinn finally gets lots of chances to play his distinctive Rickenbacker guitar. None of these songs are truly bad - which automatically gives this album a gold star compared to 'Mc-C-H' and 'City' - and this is actually as good a pop album as any released in 1981. Had it been marketed the right way this album could have gone down well - although it would have meant McGuinn and Hillman would have been tied together for a lot longer and restricted to being a 'covers' band. Like the last two records, which one's the best kinda depends on what you like - taking the dog analogy again this is a dog whose no trouble but doesn't do anything either, sitting in his kennel all day.
Of course it isn't 'The Notorious Byrd Brothers', the last album achieved by the duo when they were on their own and there's a definite lack of breaking new ground, the pair playing it safe throughout.That all seems to have come from the record company - however something that McGuinn and Hillman could have done is collaborate with each other more, as there's just one song ('Angel') featuring the pair singing together (and oddly enough Roger takes lead vocal even though Chris wrote the song). The duo are definitely lacking something both harmonically and arristically (perhaps the pair should have done the obvious thing and hired Crosby - keen to get back with his old buddies after yet another CSN split - in Clark's place?) Hearing The Byrds attempt a set of cover songs is also clearly going to be less interesting than hearing them do their own work, however good it may be. However by and large, given all the gried this record has got down the years, it's not actually that bad with a care and penache that The Byrds reunion album of 1973 doesn't possess and a welcome chance to hear two of The Byrds update their sound even further than on their last pair of recordings.
Despite the record's reputation as a monstrosity, there are still a few highlights however. 'Between You and Me', a better than average pop song with a touch of folk about it which at least makes it sound like a suitable song choice for The Byrds. 'Angel' features Roger and Chris singing together and the pair co-wrote the song with Cooper and features a nice blend of all three men's styles, coming across as a country-folk hybrid played with a soulful attack. Finally, closer 'Turn On Your Radio' by the same trio offers a clever summary of the period and the pair's fading fortunes. 'Is your radio on? Can you hear what I'm saying?' McGuinn sings to his fading audience before widening the song out to be a declaration of love to all the lonely girls sitting at hom feeling unloved. It offers a nice belated bit of emotion for Byrds fans starved of product on what will turn out to be the last collaboration to feature more than one member of the band until McGuinn Crosby and Hillman get back together again in 1990 for a Roy Orbison tribute night. A few more songs like that one could have turned the duos fortunes around, but it wasn't destined to be: a combination of poor sales, growing friction and a feeling that the collaboration had had it's day meant that the McGuinn-Clark-Hillman project that started in such a blaze of glory ended limply with some poorly attended low-key gigs that saw relations between Roger and Chris ever more strained. This is the last time any of The Byrds try to come together until 1990, when all sorts of things will have changed in The BYrds' story.
                                                                                1982
Chris Hillman "Morning Sky"
(Sugar Hill,  'Mid' 1982)
Tomorrow Is A Long Time/The Taker/Here Today and Gone Tomorrow/Morning Sky/Ripple//Good Time Charlie's Got The Blues/Don't Let Your Sweet Love Die/Mexico/It's Happening To You/Hickory Wind
"There is a fountain that was not made by the hands of men"
The whole 'McGuinn-Clark-Hillman' project seems to have put the first two off recording for a very long time - their confidence dented and record labels disinterested in them, Gene won't have a new album out till as late as 1987 (or 1984 or 1988, dependin whereabouts you lived), while Roger won't record another record until as late as 1991! Chris, though, has spent most of the second half of his career discussing how his career always seems to 'rise and fall' and was back with a new record impressively quickly after the third and final joint album, as if trying to wash the bad taste out of his mouth. The album's biggest strength and greatest weakness is that this record cotinues the 'McGuinn/Hillman' idea of merely releasing covers rather than new songs. That's a shame in that Hillman's average work is superior to a good half of this record, but at least the covers are picked with a lot of care and recorded with a lot of respect this time. The Grateful Dead's 'Ripple' (one of their greatest tracks, from their best album 'American Beauty' in 1970) is easily the album highlight, suiting the laid-back acoustic mood of the LP, while a reading of Gram Parsons' 'Hickory Wind' is a moving tribute to an old friend's greatest song. Hillman also reaches back tyo his past for two seperate songs by two different companions along the way: Bob Dylan's 'Tomorrow Is A Long Time' (written in 1963 it's something of a Bob compilation regular which never did have a 'proper' album home) and J D Souther's 'Mexico', both of which suits Hillman's new style nicely. If in truth the rest of the album isn't that great or that interesting (covers projects always tend to be a hit and miss approach, more subject to the listener's personal taste than 'proper albums', if only for demonstrating one influence at a time instead of all together) then at least there's a sense that Hillman is on the right track this time around, going back to playing the music that inspired and moved him rather than trying to chase the coat-tails of a pop career that he didn't like when he had it anyway. 'Morning Sky' was never the sort of album that was going to make him a star and sell miooions of copies, the way it was hoped the M-C-H' records would and in truth doesn't even have those three album's restricted ambition and vision. But this humble understated set is a key turning point in Hillman's careerd, the point at which he gives uip trying to please other people and goes back to the bluegrass music that was always his first love and turning the clock back to a time before he became the bass-player in The Byrds. Every Hillman LP will sound a little like this one, a fact which is both good and bad all at the same time (the sound suits him like no other, although his natural ambitions and eclecticism take more than  a little bit of a knock), a ripple from this album's still waters.

"The Original Singles Volume Two: 1967-1969"
(Columbia,  'Mid' 1982)
My Back Pages/Renaissance Fair/Have You Seen Her Face?/Don't Make Waves/Lady Friend/Old John Robertson/Goin' Back/Change Is Now//You Ain't Goin' Nowhere/Artificial Energy/I Am A Pilgrim/Pretty Boy Floyd/Bad Night At The Whiskey/Drug Store Truck Drivin' Man/Lay Lady Lay/Old Blue
"Half wracked prejudice leaped forth, 'rip down all hate' I screamed"
More of the same from Columbia, who sensibly decided to stick with the same format even though this second collection features far less in the way of hit singles ('My Back Pages', which peaked at #30 in the US, is the biggest 'hit' here) and a s a result only cvome out in Europe initiall;y (Interestingly the first edition sold far better there than in America, because because the singles were still so much easier to get there). Once again there are two songs here that never appeared on album and so were quite rare at the time: Crosby's pioneering brassy single 'Lady Friend' and the McGuinn/Hillman film soundtrack collaboration 'Don't Make Waves', a song that no one in the band liked and seemed to have been forgotten on purpose!) The Byrds continued their run of great singles with excellent flipsides, though, with lesser known songs such as 'Change Is Now' 'Artificial Energy' and 'Bad Night At The Whiskey' ever bit as good as the well known singles. Once more, this set is rather redundant now that we own everything either as part of an album on a shiny CD/download or as part of the bonus tracks on a shiny CD/download, but vinyl buffs will find this record a nice way of getting to grips with what The Byrds were up to in the immediate post-Crosby years. Alas there never was a 'volume three' which means that the Byrds story ends hanging in the 'Dr Byrds and Mr Hyde' era even though biographer Johnny Rogan says he was asked to compile it at one stage (for the record - and for anyone interested in what Byrds songs were A and B sides during the rest of their time together - the track listing would have most likely been this: 'Wasn't Born To Follow' 'Child Of The Universe' 'The Ballad Of Easy Rider' 'Oil In My Lamp' 'Jesus Is Just Alright' 'It's All Over Now Baby Blue' 'Chestnut Mare' 'Just A Season' 'I Trust' 'My Destiny' 'Glory Glory' 'Citizen Kane' 'America's Great National Past Time' 'Farther Along', two songs short of another 16-song compilation).

                                                                          1984

Chris Hillman "Desert Rose"
(Sugar Hill,  'Mid' 1984)
Why You Been Gone So Long?/Somebody's Back In Town/Wall Around Your Heart/Rough and Rowdy Ways/Desert Rose//Running The Roadblocks/I Can't Keep You In Love With Me/Treasure Of Love/Ashes Of Love/Turn Your Radio On
"I've got that feeling - I know that it shows!"
Hillman album number two picks up where 'Morning Sky' left off, further along the road between middle-of-the-road pop and way-out-in-a-cul -de-sac bluegrass, but sung with much more gusto and confidence. Chris is, at last, in a happy place, having given up all plans to become a big name with McGuinn-Clark-Hillman to record songs for a smaller but more supportive circle of fans.The surprise bluegrass 'cover' of that trio's 'Turn Your Radio On' - which couldn't sound more different, the commerciality of the original inverted into a pure Nashville weepy  -  is clearly meant to demonstrate the difference 'before' and 'after'. In case you were wondering, not this isn't a 'Desert Rose Band' album, although the greoup do take their name from the title track of this album - one that Hillman was rather pleased with and rightly so: it's charming nostalgic lyrics will set the tone for much of those records to come. The album's problem is that Hillman tends to write his problems out and rarely composes songs when he's happy and if you ignore that McGuinn collaboration from 1981 he writes a grand total of two songs for this record. Interestingly that second original song, 'Running The Roadblocks' carries a co-credit for his old writing partner Peter Knobler and sounds ever so much like an outtake from 'Slippin' Away', one final go at a mainstream pop song with a rock swagger that by now sounds like a totally aliewn sound in the middle of an album all about the country and 'roots'. Sadly the cover songs just aren't as interesting as Hillman's own songs, although a few of them have a certain power: Jimmie Rodgers' 'Rough and Ready Ways' finds Chris tackling a very Gram Parsons-style song and passing with flying colours, while George Jones' 'Treasure Of Love' is a neglected country classic that's a far more interesting song than most of the Jones classics that always get trotted out like 'She Thinks I Still Care' and 'We're Gonna Hold On'. However the rest of the covers are a rather undistinguished lot, not quite country and not quite pop and while Hillman is in good voice, the backing doesn't always match the effort he's putting in. The result is another Hillman 'nearly' album that sold respetably but not well - things are about to change, however, in a highly dramatic fashion...

                                                                                 1987
"The Desert Rose Band" (Featuring Chris Hillman)
(Curb, April 1987)
One Step Forward/Love Reunited/He's Black And I'm Blue/Leave This Town/Time Between/Ashes Of Love/One That Got Away/Once More/Glass Hearts/Hard Times
"Forget the past - this hurt won't last"
Taking the idea, the name and many of the best musicians from his best and best received album in a while, Chris Hillman with the start of a new venture that for a time would come close to matching The Byrds for fame and sales - even if the success didn't even last for that long this time round. Chris hired many of the guest stars from his last album back for this project including guitarist John Jorgensen, bassist Bill Bryson (no, not the travel writer, although goodness knows this band did enough travelling), pedal steel player Jay Dee Maness and drummer Steve Duncan, although in retrospect his biggest moving was hiring guitarist Herb Pedersen, who'll follow Hillman through thick and thin all the way to the present time. The timing could not have been better: The Byrds were suddenly 'cool' again (with enough years gone by since the McGuinn-Clark-Hillman years to make the public nostalgic for the band once more, who were all having a very quiet firast half of the decade) and bluegrass was 'in', seen as serious and traditional and made by 'real' players at a time when country music was generally closer to empty pop than anything else. To be honest The Desert Rose Band could have spent their first album covering Merle Haggard songs badly and they'd have still got a Grammy nomination at this point in their lives: fortunately Hillman especially was on good form (although they still didn't win the Grammy - that went to Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt, who were even better in their timing of getting together during a lean spell in all their careers).
The tone is laidback from the front cover onwards (Chris, Herb and John slouching on a sofa, guitars in hand -a million miles away from the clisk front sleeves of M-C-H), but a lot of effort has clearly gone into these songs. Hillman gets coc-redits on seven of the album's songs, making him very much the lead composer at this point in the band's career, often alongside Bill Wildes, and generally speaking his songs are the highlights of the record. 'One Step Forward' is about the dance of two lovers who love and hate in equal measure, set to some interesting danceable music. 'Love Reunited' is an interesting twist on Hillman's usual songs about getting up and leaving, urging another person to stay put after a heavy row. 'Leave This Town' is more like the usual Hillman, another song about a disappearing act but it's one of his punchier songs on the subject, with the best harmonies on a Hillman song since the Flying Burrito days (Herb Pedersen is credited with 'vocal arrangements' and does a great job across the album but especially here). 'One That Got Away' is a bit more ordinary, a generic song about getting in contact with a lost love and wondering whether to throw away ten years of marriage and children for the promise of what might have been (had this song been written twenty years later it would inevitably have involved Facebook or Friends Reunited). A collaboration with old friend Peter Knobler, the sound and style suggests it may have been a song left over from thw 1970s. 'Glass Hearts' is a very bouncy pop tune with the unusual chorus 'glass hearts will make 'cause they're made of sand' (which I guess is technically true in terms of the relationship between sand and glass but is an odd metaphor all the same) and the poignant plea 'I don't want to be shattered on!' 'Hard Times' sadly isn't a remake of the classic Douther-Hillman-Furay song but a new one with the same name about icking yourself up and looking forward to better times. However the song 'Time Between' is indeed the same one The Byrds first recorded a full twenty years before and is the highlight of the set, treated to a nice uptempo beat and a surprise mandolin solo! The rest of the album largely follows suit, although it's worth mentioning cover song 'Ashes Of Love' which Hillman had recorded in inferior form for his earlier 'Desert Rose' record with many of the same players.
Overall, then, there's nothing new or groundbreaking about 'The Desert Rose Band' and in terms of quality-per-song is arguably not up to the standard of the Hillman solo album that bears that name. But the performances are strong, the production just about manages to straddle slick and lively without being lifeless, the harmonies especially soar and Hillman has found himself in the middle of a supportive, synpathetic band of brothers at last. In short The Deesert Rose Band were despite their name an oasis of integrity in a music scene starved of proper life-affirming music made by 'real' people and they deserved all the sudden success that came their way, even if this best-selling LP isn't necessarily their best.
"To play on
Gene Clark "Firebyrd"
(**,  'Mid' 1984/1987/1995)
80s Version: Mr Tambourine Man/Something About You Baby/Rodeo Rider/Rain Song//Vanessa/If You Could Read My Mind/I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better/Made For Love/Blue Raven
90s Version: Mr Tambourine Man/Vanessa/Rain Song/C'est La Bonne Rue/If You Could Read My Mind/Dixie Flyer/I'l Feel A Whole Lot Better/Rodeo Rider/All I Want/Something About You Baby/Made For Love/Blue Raven
"Today the rain came down again and washed away the light"
Gene's last solo album in his lifetime was so randomly released at the time that various sites out there give the release date as '1984' '1987' and '1988'. We've plumped with the 'middle' ground because that's when most fans would have bought it, especially in America (almost in parallel with duets record 'So Rebellious A Lover'), although the recordings date back to the first half of the 1980s and were released in selected parts of Europe in 1984 (the album was re-issued again in 1995 as 'This Byrd Has Flown' - despite the awful pun it does add three new songs and is arguably the version to get, although sadly they also mess around with the track listing which doesn't work quite as well). There's a sense throughout this set that this is one massive roll of the dice and then that will be it, for good and Gene does everything he can to make the record his bosses have been asking for since the mid-60s (slick production, pop singles, covers of 'famous' songs and re-makes of his own Byrds past plus a tongue-in-cheek album name and an 'oldies' shot on the cover), but in true Gene Clark style gives away a bit too much, making this not just his most commercial but his most pointless album. There's very little of the 'real' Gene here, with few songs full of his usual words of wit and wisdom and the little bit there is (like his distinctive voice) is smothered by a claustrophobic production that makes him an extra on his own album. If there's any Gene Clark record you probably shouldn't buy, it's this one.
And yet even this record has a certain magic about it, which may come in smaller doses than normal but is there nonetheless. The cover songs give us the chance to focus on Gene as a vocalist and he acquits himself well, delivering more pathos and guilt on 'If You Could Read My Mind' than composer Gordon Lightfoot managed and while the very 80s remake of 'Mr Tambourine Man' is pathetic (wrong singer, wrong arrangement, wrong song), the re-make of 'I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better' shows off just what a strong, cleverly constructed piece that is, adaptable to anything - even an anti-spetic world of synths and backing singers. Gene might spend most of his originals on the album trying to sound pop but a little of his old self peeks through: 'Rodeo Rider' is another guilt-ridden song about the morning after a wild party and vowing 'never again', especially now that the 'cowboy' is alone out there in the Wild West his friends all fallen, although this time even the narrator sounds resigned to a life of binges and abstinence over and over again. 'Rain Song' is the album highlight, Gene updating his old metaphors of light in the sky offering inspiration by claiming that the clouds are out and it's raining hard while a dream of what could have been still haunts him. 'Made For Love' is the happiest song on the album, the clouds still forming and last chances still sweeping past ('I didn't ever ride that dark horse into town')but Gene admitting that these are all just excuses: 'all I had to do [to make it right] was love you' he cries. Finally 'Blue Raven' gives us a sequel to the classic 'Silver Raven' , gene telling his on-off girlfriendTerri that 'I thought you knew that all the songs I wrote were all about you' (even the ones written before he met her, as if she'd always been his muse) and claiming that without her the silver has dropped off them both, leaving him 'blue'. It's a sweet moment for fans who got the significance of all this and an unusual end to an album that seems to ignore most of Gene's past.
Overall, then, 'Firebyrd' deserved better. Gene did everything the record labels asked of him, proved why they were daft for trying to turn him into something he wasn't despite trying very very hard and added in just enough of what his fans really wanted to hear to keep them happy. It's just a shame that Gene didn't have more fans around to buy his music, by now being a forgotten member - whitewashed from history - of a band who weren't that cool anymore. Some fans and reviewers tried to make out at the time and in years since that this is a 'classic' lost album, to the level of a 'White Light' or 'No Other'. It blatantly isn't - no album with a cover of 'Mr Tambourine Man' that bad can be a classic and this is a long way from the best of what Clark can do. But when even your lesser albums are this good (at times at least), well...that's talent right there.
As for the three extra songs added in 1995, two are noisy Thomas Jefferson kaye covers:  'C'est La Bonne Rue' and 'Dixie Rider' have Gene sounding less like himself than the rest of the record and don't really add much, although 'All I Want'  - a Clark/Terry Slocum collaboration - is a song worth owning, a teary ballad that again finds Gene guilty reflecting on a mis-spent mis-used past.

Gene Clark and Carla Olsen "So Rebellious A Lover"
(Rhino,  April 1987)
The Drifter/Gypsy Rider/Every Angel In Heaven/Del Gato/Deportee (Plane Wreck At Los Gatos)/Fair and Tender Ladies/Almost Saturday Night/Hot Burrito #1/Are We Still Making Love?/Why Did You Leave Me Today?/Don't It Make You Want To Go Home?/Changes
CD Bonus Tracks: Day For Night/Jokers Are Wild/Winning Hand/Lover's Turnaround/Broken Hearts and Broken Dreams
"Gypsy rider sing your two-wheeled symphony, you know there's nothing to explain"
Gene Clark had always intended his big statement of the 1980s to be made with CRY - the trio he started with Pat Roberston and fellow ex-Byrd John York, a spin-off from the '20th Anniversary Tribute To The Byrds' live shows Gene and John had taken part in. Robertson was an interesting addition - he was another songwriter with a similaer style tpo Clark's who was being promoted by the same manager, Saul Davis, and the pair found a lot in common. Gene, frustrated by his 'day job' of banging out the same tired 'hits' every night, grew and grew in confidence, writing some of his best and certainly his strangest material - but a good decade on from his last big record company backing and two since his last real 'hit', no one wanted to know. Sadly these recordings stayed in the vaults until after Gene's death.
However  a short tour Gene had undertaken in 1985 with singer Carla Olsen - the singer with respected but unsuccessful band The Textones - seemed a better bet for a record label to take a chance on. Olsen's introduction to Gene was sudden and unexpected - her pal Gary Nichaman was also enough of a friend of Gene's to 'push'  Carla on-stage during an ecnore of 'I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better'; even though Clark was confused as to what was going on he enjoyed the experience enough to repeat it. Carla wasn't exactly a household name, but her star was on the rise with a second Textones album well received at the start of 1987 and Rhino considered the paiting had promise, appealing to older Byrds fans and younger country ones. As usual, Gene had a lot of material spare, choosing to stick to the more commercial end of his recent prolific songwriting period and Carla threw a few songs in too. Unfortunately, though, the pair decided early on to bond over past material, almost as if they were re-creating the 'vibe' of the Gram Parsons/Emmylou Harris period (one of the album highlights is in fact a nice version of The Fkying Burrito Brothers' 'Hot Burrito #1', a nice gesture to The Byrds' extended family). As a result some fans were disappointed when this album first came out - after being starved of Gene Clark product for so long and reports of a songwriting spree fans had to adjust to the fact that not only was Gene sharing the spotlight as a singer, he was taking a backseat as a writer too. The album also suffers a little from playing things too safe, as if the pair are too keen not to ruffle any feathers; few people who bought this album unknowingly would have guessed that at one stage Gene was one of the most pioneering, adventurous expressive writers of his generation. Chances are the duo, unused to working with anyone outside their respective bands, simply wanted to test the water with this first album and plans were hatched for a sequeal almost immediately, with the pair continuing to tour together when their respective schedules (and Gene's failing health) allowed. Sadly Gene's death in 1991 meant that instead of a run of albums, 'So Rebellious A Lover' turned out to be a one-off rather than merely a beginning.
Seen in this light - as the starter for something big rather than a main course - the album is rather enjoyable. The closest Clark came to making a countrey record, this is a nicely subtle and expressive album that comes in lots of shades. Considering we're in the mid 1980s, the production is nicely retro and 'alive', with proper players all in the same room rather than digital synths (as per 'Firebyrd'), with Chris Hillman making a surprise return on mandolin on one track (Chris had been furious with Gene for bailing out on McGuinn-Clark-Hillman, far more so than Roger, and will be the prime mover behind keeping Gene out of the 1989/1990 Byrds reuniuons, so this is a major development for the pair). Talks about the 'amazing chemistry' between the pair of singers is a little over-blown (their voices aren't a natural fit for each other the way that Gram's and Emmylou's are), but considering the fact that circumstances meant this album was for the most part recorded seperately (with Gene doing his work during the day and Carla at night) they do have a certain rapport, gene's by now lived in and fading voice contrasting nicely with Carla's youthful brightness. However they sound too much like friends or brother and sister - there's none of the sexual chemistry the album needs (as almost all the songs are about lovers in some sense) and gene sounds alost fatherly at times (which is quite a contrast with Gram and Emmylou!)
When Gene gets a chance to right from the heart rather with an eye on his bank balance his songwriting is genuinely moving too, with a theme that runs across the album of two people looking back on their lives and wishing it had turned out differently - that they'd settled down when they'd got the chance. 'Gypsy Rider' is rightfully regarded as the highlight of the album, a ballad that comes with a lovely mix of folky acoustic guitar and pure country pedal steel, as if mining all the Byrds' influences in one go. Returning to his theme of being a restless wanderer, Gene is surely writing to wife Carlie here, adding 'you should know by now, I'm a vagabond - I'll never pass this way again'. Carla's most sensitive harmony vocal on the album also turns this song into a duet for two partners wanting to be together but knowing they cannot be, which is rather moving given the context. However just as good is 'Del Gato', a song Gene wrote with Rich Clark (no relation). Gene's narrator has just flown back home in the Wild West after many years ago and hates what he sees - the 'hanging tree' still waits for him for some earlier misdemenaur from what seems like a lifetime ago and the schools 'built by fools breaking the rules', So 'Del Gato' quietly turns round and walks off again, 'my face torn by sand storms and pride'. Gene may be writing about his old band here and the difficulties he has trying to live up to his old fame: perhaps the McGuinn-Clark-Hillman years or the Byrds re-recordings on 'Firebyrd'. Whatever the inspiration this is the second and final classic Clark song on the album, proof that he still had a way with words and a unique vision right up until the end. 'Lover's Turnaround'  - one of five tracks added to the CD version not on the original album - has a sadly ordinary melody but again has a strong set of words, Gene resigning himself to being a loser in life destined to never stay as part of a couple until finding himself 'seeing your face and being born again', ending the album - and his career - in terms of original songs with the lovely message that after a lifetime of darkness 'I have seen the light'. Alas Gene's other songs for the album aren't quite up to this standard: 'Why Did You Leave Me Today?' is a typical country weepy memorable only for the long drawn out syllables in the chorus (which sounds like weeping), 'Day For A Night' is a bit ordinary by Gene's standards, a kind of miserable re-write of 'The Long and Winding Road' and 'Winning Hand' is a rather cliched country hoe-down.
The other songs are a bit of a mixed bag. Carla is normally a great songwriter in her own right, but her three songs for this record are even more variable than Gene's (opener 'The Drifter' is about the best - it's certainly the most suitable for Gene, with it's lyrics of desperados wanting to bust out of jail). As for the covers, it's great to hear Gene tackling 'Hot Burrito #1' which benefits from a lovely slow tempo and a new arrangement, while traditional song 'Fair and Tender Ladies' could have been tailor made for Clark's gravelly voice and John Fogerty's bouncy Credence Clearwater Revival song is a suprise album highlight with both singers letting their hair down and having fun. However a tortured re-make of 'Deportee (Plane Wreck At Los Gatos)' makes even the weak post-Gene Byrds version from 'The Ballad Of Easy Rider' sound amazing and Phil Ochs' 'Changes' brings out the worst in both vocalists: his weakness and her shrillness. Still, there's much to enjoy here - and given that the CD re-issue of the album now runs to an impressive 17 tracks (adding another five to what was already a rather lengthy album) there's easily a strong half-hour ten track album in there somewhere. With a few of the rough edges smoothed out and a couple more originals from both singers next time around this partnership could have run and run - but alas it wasn't to be.  Fans would have liked more of the 'real' Gene, while fans of Carla no doubt wondered what she was doing singing with another vocalist from another generation and it's not the swansong Gene's fascinating productive and groundbreaking career demanded. However the alternative after a difficult decade was getting no Gene at all, with 'rebellious A Lover' a far more suitable end to the great man's career than either 'Firebyrd' or silence would have been.

"Never Before"
(Murray Hill,  December 1987)
Mr Tambourine Man (Alternate Mix)/I Knew I'd Want You (Alternate Mix)/She Has A Way/It's All Over Now, Baby Blue ('Fast' Version)/Never Before aka The Day Walk//Eight Miles High (Alternate Version)/Why? (Alternate Take)/Triad/It Happens Each Day/Lady Friend
CD Bonus Tracks (1989 Re-Issue): I Know My Rider/Why? (B-Side Version)/She Don't Care About Time (Alternate Mix)/Flight 713/Psychodrama City/Don't Make Waves/Moog Raga
"On a charcoal bed of dreams, you carry on"
Columbia had been sitting on a gold mine for years without quite realising it. Tom Slocum, a musician friend of Gene Clark and lifelong Byrd fanatic, found himself at the Wally Heider studio one day where The Byrds made most of their early recordings. Booking himself into the library during some down time there, he happened to notice The Byrds' name on a shelf and was excited to find the names of song titles he'd never heard of before. Slocum contacted Jim Dickson about what was there and the pair investigated further, deciding that there was more than enough for an outtakes set. Murray Hill, a smaller record label, were the first to bite the bait the pair offered and set about searching not only the Heider studios but the Columbia vaults as well. The Byrds themselves re-acted with a variety of enthusiasm: Clark, pleasedc to have a 'friend' in charge of proceedings and two songs (with their welcome royalties) that he'd forgotten all about was all for it; so was Crosby after finding out that this two key songs for the vinyl version were a lot better than he'd remembered. Both Chris Hillman and Michael Clarke were interested enough to take part in controversial 'overdubbing' sessions, insisted on by Murray Hill who felt that 80s audiences would need them to 'understand' 60s recording techniques: the results were mixed, Hillman adding a gorgeous guitar part to 'It Happens Each Day' under Crosby supervision (David also adding one single line that had become damaged on the master-tape), while Clarke was less successful drowning out 'Lady Friend' with some chaotic modern drumming (thankfully removed from all re-issues of the song ever since). McGuinn, for once not the chief mover behind a Byrds set, doesn't seem to have had much to do with it (although it's success did encourage him to make the first Byrds box set - with its own range of unreleased material - in response). Hillman, too, lost interest once two alternate versions of his songs were dropped from a planned track listing (alternate mixes of 'Have You Seen Her Face?' - added to the 1990 box set - and a still unreleased version of 'Old John Robertson') and later slammed the record, despite his hard work on it both in the 1960s and in 1987. Fans, long starved of product, were more than pleased with it and the record became one of Murray Hill's biggest sellers, although sadly it never quite made the charts.
'Never Before' is aptly titled. If you ignore the 'alternate mixes' (which aren't that different) this set still features an impressive seven unreleased songs on the LP version or eleven on the CD and unlike some other rarities sets I could name (cough *Beatles Anthology*) all but two of these are 'proper' outtakes, not demos or hybrids of unreleased tracks but fully fledged recordings interesting in their own right (and the two remaining instrumentals are more interesting than most instrumentals!) Concentrating on the original album line-up, it's hard to make sense of why so much great material got left on the cutting room floor: even by Gene Clark's standards 'Tamboutrine' outtake 'She Has A Way' and 'Turn! Turn! Turn!' outtake 'The Day Walk' are clever songs (the latter is called 'Never Before' on the original release after the title of the LP; Gene couldn't remember what his song was called and had forgotten all about it, although paperwork which came to light before the first Byrds box set gave us the 'real' title 'The Day Walk', which in typical Clark fashion is a line that never appears anywhere in the lyrics!) The first stunning alternate take of 'Eight Miles High' - long championed by Crosby in particular - might be less inteSse than the finished product but is still fascaintingm an incredibly different take (Slower! Looser!Jazzier!) to one of the most famous psychedelic masterpieces of the 1960s. Crosby's 'Triad', which would have been so shocking in it's day, is revealed as an excellent as well as controversial song and sounds right at home here, the taboos about a menage a trois fading into the background of shocks by 1987. The Grateful Dead-style 'I Know My Rider' (which that band duly took up after hearing The Byrds version) was right to be rejected in favour of 'Eight Miles High' but still more than deserved a place on the '5D' record. 'Psychodrama City' is very much of its time and rather unfinished, but  the unusual atonal jazzy chorus and Crosby's barbed comments about Gene's phobia of flying make it a fascinating historical document. Best of all, Crosby's haunting 'Younger Than Yesterday' outtake 'It Happens Each Day' is a masterpiece, one of the most beautiful of all Byrds songs and sounded every bit as strong and timeless 20 years on. All in all 'Never Before' was an impressive compilation that rightly brought a lot of people's attentions back to The Byrds, not just for the quantity but the quality of these releases, being easily one of the best 'outtakes' sets released up until that time (and the sheer volume of sets issued in the 1990s).
Of course, like the first Byrds box set, this set is now rather redundant. Almost all the 'new' songs here are now available on a variety of more relevent and fitting homes, from the 1990 CD re-issues to the best of them appearing on 2006 box set 'Just A Season' (leaving just the 'alternate mixes', the 'worse' version of 'Lady Friend' with horrid drumming and, curiously, the rather good instrumental 'Flight 713' exclusive to this set). The other trouble with this set is that, several Byrds re-issues on, we know just how many other great unreleased songs there still were sitting in the vaults that could have made this set: alternate takes of 'I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better' 'You Won't Have To Cry' and 'It's No Use' to go alongside unreleased titles 'Universal Mind Decoder', not to mention rare-but-suitable alternate versions from the soundtyracks of the 'Easy Rider' 'Banjoman' and 'Candy'. In other words an almost perfect set could have been more perfect still with the 'alternate mixes' removed and the best of these songs substituted in their place. Still, 'Never Before' was rightfully heralded as an excellent release for a number of very good reasons and even the passing of another twenty years plus hasn't diluted the quality and consistency of this superb release.

                                                                           1988
The Desert Rose Band (Featuring Chris Hillman) "Running"
(Curb,  May 1988)
She Don't Love Nobody/Running/Hello Trouble/I Still Believe In You/Summer Wind/For The Rich Man/Step On Out/Homeless/Livin' In The House/Our Songs
"The road is paved with gold, if you do all that you're told"
Hillman's unexpected but well deserved success continued with a second strong selling set by The Desert Rose Band. The formula was much the same as last time, with most of the band involved in the writing but Chris taking the lead, with and without the other band members. Hillman is in even better sound throughout and rarely sounds better than this album, which probably not entirely co-incidentally came at just the time when Hillman had vowed to get 'healthy', giving up drugs and bad ways for early mornings jogging. However the sound is perhaps a little more 'middle of the road' country this time around, the record losing out ovcer it's predecessor simply because it lacks the 'Manassas' style gear changes from one extreme to another (though that said Herb Pedersen's surprise cover of Buck Owens' 'Hello Trouble' is even more pure country than The Flying Burritos!)
The theme of the record however is very much the same, with the band all reflecting on their years of travelling in a wide assortment of bands and the obstacles and highs of living your life out of a suitcase. That works particularly well on the title track and highlight of the album where Hillman looks back at why he started out as a travelling musician in the first place: 'running from life' and a 'town of broken dreams'. Movingly Hillman also confronts his father's suicide for the first time in song, portraying him as 'one of life's casulaties' who 'died a broken man by his own hand' - and exactly what Chris didn't want to end up like. All these years later Chris reveals he's 'still running' . Moving Hillman ballad 'I Still Believe In You' is another gem, moving froma typical ' hopeless romanticism' to a ' worried polar opposites' song, sometimes within the same line! Album single 'Summer Wind' is a superior country-pop song too, whether intended or not a rather neat sequel to 'Hickory Wind' but with every hard decision and struggle on the road made so that the narrator can return home to his loved ones and make a better life for them (Hillman may also be commenting on the sudden success of the Desert Rose Band after all these years too, commenting on how he longs for another earm breeze but 'only God' can choose whether the next breeze in life is a tough one or a strengthening one). Like Roger and Gene in the 1980s, Chris was also in a deeply nostalgic mood, ending the album with 'Our Songs', the tale of a band who've been around for as long as he can remember (so clearly can't be the Desert Rose Band, then celebrating merely their first birthday). The clue which band Chris means can be heard in the opening line, where 'I know things are different than they were in '65', the year of 'Mr Tambourine Man' and 'Turn! Turn! Turn!' Enough water has gone under the bridge for Hillman to feel rather pleased about the period he grew up in, 'when the music came from the heart and kept our hopes alive' and vows to keep up the same spirit of 'singing our troubles and trials in three-part harmony'. Hillman and his generation are now all daddies, taking time out to raise families, and while part of them feels anxious when their offspring 'reach out' to them when an old song comes on the radio, they're happy to be at home having survived the troubled sixties. Hillman reserves his barbed comments for the record compoanies who longed dismissed him for trying to do the kind of music that's so successful for him now, providing country music for a generation who don't even know it's there, lost in the varied noise of 80s life such as MTV and radio. It's a sweet ender to an excellent album, with Hillman older and wiser but still with much of his crusading spirit intact.  There's even a gentlemanly nod of the head to old sparring partner and Crosby and CSNY with a line taken from their influential 1970 single 'Ohio' ('We marched on Alabama, we died in Ohio').
In truth, the rest of this record is rather unremarkable, including an oddly pointless revival of 1976's 'Step On Out' - hardly the Hillman track of the seventies I'd been longing for the bassist to revive - and the oddly patronising 'Homeless' (which sounds like a description of what the title character from 'Christine's Tune' got up to next!) Despite it's success and strong reputation 'Running' is still lower in the Hillman picking order than 'Clear Sailin' I feel, with less grace, beauty and forays into areas new. However, 'Running' is still a strong album, a record every bit the equal To Gram Parsons' better known duo of records and as good as another other country-rock hybrid album out there. Hillman is clearly on to a good thing and he knows it too, surrounded by an excellent band he knows inside out and who can back him up the way that Hillman did to others for so many years. 'Running' deserves it's success as the strongest seller of Hillman's 'solo' career (or at least those parts of it with Hillman as the creative powerhouse) and while it's not quite the best record he ever made it was perfect for the times, when country-rock was slowly heading back into fashion and The Byrds were eclipsing almost all their peers as the height of 60s cool just in time for Britpop...
"To play on a

"In The Beginning"
(Rhino,  August 1988)
Tomorrow Is A Long Ways Away (Electric Version)/Boston/The Only Girl I Adore/You Won't Have To Cry/I Knew I'd Want You/The Airport Song/ Please Let Me Love You/You Movin'/It Won't Be Long/You Showed Me/She Has A Way/For Me Again/It's No Use/Here Without You
CD Version: The Reason Why/Mr Tambourine Man/ Tomorrow Is A Long Ways Away (Acoustic Version)
"Please let me love you a while, let me live in the warmth of your smile...oh yah! Oh yah!!!"
An alternate version of 'Preflyte' was an obvious choice of archive Byrds release after the success of outtakes set 'Never Before' and if you're coming to these tapes fresh then this set was actually a big improvement, containing more songs and slightly more together performances. The cornerstone of this set was the discovery of two performances of a newly discovered Gene Clark song 'Tomorrow Is A Long Ways Away', which while short is indeed one of it's creator's prettiest songs and about as neat a halfway point between The Beatles and Bob Dylan as The Byrds ever achieved, mixing folkie philosophy with some very Merseybeat-style vocal phrasing. Other 'new' songs aren't quite so special, including the very Beatley Clark song 'The Only Girl I Adore' on which Crosby shines and early tentative versions of 'Turn! Turn! Turn!' classic 'It Won't Be Long' and 'It's No Use'. 'Please Let Me Love You' meanwhile comes over like a German Beatles, with Clark ver-enunciating his words and the band settling for the moptop friendly chorus line of 'oh yah!'  Even the songs already heard once on 'Preflyte' sound a little better here though, with a character and ragged charm that's slightly beaten out of them on the more polished versions on that album (especially the frenetic version of classic Clark rocker 'Boston', which makes the 'Preflyte' arrangement sound positively gentlemanly!) However, as with many of these archive sets, what was greeted as the pinnacle of Byrd archiving in 1988 is rather redundant today, with all these recordings and more available on the 2001 set 'The Preflyte Sessions'.

                                                                              1990

The Desert Rose Band (Featuring Chris Hillman) "Pages Of Life"
 (Curb, January 1990)
Story Of Love/Start All Over Again/Missing You/Just A Memory/God's Plan/Darkness On The Playground/Our Baby's Gone/Time Passes Me By/Everybody's A Hero/In Another Lifetime/Desert Rose
"I'm no stranger to the bad times, I'll just stand my ground, and remember the good times that don't always come back around"
This is, effectively, the big one. For the first time in his life Chris Hillman had managed to stay in a band that lasted to the third album without any big line-up changes, losses of faith or plunges into darkness and the heavily promoted  'Pages Of Life' really capitalised on the strong sales of the first two records becoming the best-selling of all the Desert Rose Band albums. While many fans were anticipating a slow amble into middle age, the result is a rather fiesty and earthy record that features a shade more rock than the other Desert Rose albums and makes especially good use of John Jorgensen's blistering guitar work. Creatively the band have become more and more Hillman's baby, with Chris writing or co-writing all but one of these songs and again looking back on the usual Desert Rose Band themes of travel and the pitfalls of stardom. Hillman also does more singing than normal, effectively becoming the band's de facto lead vocalist on this album although the group seem more of a 'band' than ever, with everyone getting something to do. There's even a little bit of a religious theme to this record, encouraged by Hillman's growing faith in Christianity (inspired by Al Perkins a decade before and embellished by friendships with believers McGuinn and Richie Furay). However, already there are signs of fracturing thanks to a curious decision by record label Curb to fature just three members (Hillman, Jorgensen and Pedersen) on the cover - no matter how many times the band said in interviews that they were a sextet. Pedal steel player Jay Dee Maness,  for one, will get fed up of this arrangement and leave the band after this record.
Musically, 'Pages Of Life' is probably the most consistent of the five Desert Rose Band albums. This time around none of the tracks are really bad and there are no dodgy country covers to contend with either - in fact it's arguably the first truly satisfying all-round LP Hillman had worked on since 'Manassas' in 1972! However a few songs stand out from the crowd. 'Darkness On The Playground' is Chris' (and collaborator Stve Hill's) best work in a long time, a winning anti-drug theme that has the elder Hillman sighing over the premature deaths of colleagues like Gram Parsons and acknowledging that the day's youth had similar problems at a much earlier age than he ever had, 'trouble on the streets in the land of the free'. The Spouther-Hillman-Furay style 'Everybody's Hero' also sounds to me as if it's about Gram, with Hillman reflecting how 'I knew him when he was nothing at all' wand watching, shocked, as his friend's recklessness causes him to be praised and eulogised as a messenger of God when Hillman knows the truth 'that he's just another hero who lives on the ground'.  'Time Passes Me By' is also a sweet song, one of the most traditionally country pieces Hillman has written and clearly finding him in a happy place with his third wife 'a precious thing, a gift from God'. 'In Another Life Time' is another sweet bit of autobiography from Hillmnan, slowly coming to terms with his long and varied career and asking Have I lived through the best times? Did I hurt anyone?' and reflecting that if he could do it all over again 'I'd walk a straighter line' and get to this happier part of his life quicker. Finally Desert Rose finally bow to the inevitable and this album's dip into Chris' past songbook features the very song they were named after, although sadly this rather less polished, bouncy take on the song isn't quite the gem it ought to be. Still, overall this is another strong album by a band who sound as if they're onto a good thing and it's nice to see Hillman finally getting the success he deserves. At the time it must have seemed as if the band would run forever, but alas the Desert Band are about to run dry and their rose about to wilt...
"To play on a

"The Byrds" (Box Set #1)
(Columbia/Legacy,  October 1990)
CD One: Mr Tambourine Man/I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better/Chimes Of Freedom/She Has A Way/All I Really Wanna Do/Spanish Harlem Incident/The Bells Of Rhymney/It's All Over Now Baby Blue ('Fast' Version)/She Don't Care About Time (Alternate Version)/Turn! Turn! Turn!/It Won't Be Wrong/Lay Down Your Weary Tune/He Was A Friend Of Mine/The World Turns All Around Her/The Day Walk aka Never Before/The Times They Are A Changin'/5D (Fifth DImension)/I Know My Rider/Eight Miles High/Why? (Alternate Version)/Psychodrama City/I See You/Hey Joe (Where You Gonna Go?)
CD Two: Mr Spaceman/John Riley/Roll Over Beethoven (Live)/So You Want To Be A Rock and Roll Star?/Have You Seen Her Face?/My Back Pages/Time Between/It Happens Each Day/Renaissance Fair/Everybody Has Been Burned/The Girl With No Name/Triad/Lady FRiend/Old John Robertson (B-Side Version)/Goin' Back/Draft Morning/Wasn't Born To Follow/Dolphin's Smile/Reuptation/You Ain't Goiun' Nowhere/The Christian Life (Gram Parsons Vocal)/I Am A Pilgrim/Pretty Boy Floyd/You Don't Miss Your Water (Gram Parsons Vocal)
CD Three: Hickory Wind/Nothing Was Delivered/One Hundred Years From Now (Gram Parsons Vocal)/Pretty Polly/Lazy Days/This Wheel's On Fire/Nashville West/Old Blue/Drug Store Truck Drivin' Man/Bad Night At The Whiskey/Lay Lady Lay/Mae Jean Goes To Hollywood/The Ballad Of Easy Rider/Oil In My Lamp ('Fast' Version)/Jesus Is Just Alright/Way Behind The Sun aka Way Beyond The Sun/Tulsa County Blue/Deportee (Plane Wreck At Los Gatos)/Lover Of The Bayou (Live)/Willin' (Live)/Black Mountain Rag (Live)/Positively 4th Street (Live)
CD Four: Chestnut Mare/Just A Season/Kathleen's Song ('Demo' Version)/Truck Stop Girl/Just Like A Woman/Stanley's Song/Glory Glory/I Trust/I Wanna Grow Up To Be A Politician/Green Apple Quickstep/Tiffany Queen/Bugler/Lazy Waters/Farther Along/White's Lightning (Extract #1)/Turn! Turn! Turn! (Live)/Mr Tambourine Man (Live)/He Was A Friend Of Mine (Re-Recording)/Paths Of Victory/From A Distance/Love That Never Dies
"You keep tearing your own reputation down!"
With the strong sales for 'Never Before' and the recent Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, the time was clearly right for The Byrds to join that pantheon of artists who get to have their own four CD box set. And unlike some artists who didn't actually make much music or had anything to offer fans hadn't bought anyway (the Janis Joplin and even Gram Parsons sets spring to mind), The Byrds were a natural. CDs were new back then so the band's catalogue hadn't really been mined properly and when it had it was the 'hit' albums released as short-running bare-bones releases, without bonus tracks and no packaging bar the front covers and lists of publishing credits (and even some of those weren't right - who is 'H Clark' again?!) This set was a welcome opportunity to put out a pick of great music from all Byrds eras and package it properly, complete with liner notes, essays and lots of lovey photographs. After all, this band are almost unqiue in the wide appeal that they had to audiences who hadn't necessarily bought everything they ever did: many fans gave up after Clark left the band, others when Crosby left and so hadn't ever got to hear what the later line-ups sounded like (the same is conversely true on a lesser scale - fans who adored 'Chestnut Mare' but only knew the 'hits' of the early years). Other fans came to The Byrds to find out what Crosby got up to before forming CSN. Other came to it to hear Gram Parson's 'early years'. Maybe a few rockabilly fans even came to the fan interested solely in the Skip Battin years, who knows - but what can you say is that there was a real market for this set and fans were pleased to have their favourite band done 'properly' at last. Most of the band favourites were there, in proper chronological order (the way all sets should be arranged but rarely are) and by and large there was a good mixture of the Byrds as a studio band and a cracking live band.
However as the years went on and Columbia did things even more properly (ie re-issuing every single album with at least three bonus tracks added to each one between 1996 and 1998) suddenly this set came to seem a bit empty. Roger McGuinn was closely involved with the track listing and while usually a good judge of that sort of thing, seems to have been in a bit of a bad mood with many of his fellow Byrds. Many fans pointed out that Gene Clark was hard done by, with even classics such as 'Set You Free THis Time' and 'If You're Gone' missing from the line-up ('Full Circle' is missing too, although the reunion LP was aon another label - Asylum - and might have been hard to get the rights to). Gene could have done with the royalties too in the last year of his life, with his entire key year with the band (and the biggest selling point of the set, frankly) reduced to just the first sixteen tracks (by contrast theGram Parsons line-up - which only lasted for one album - get eleven!) Crosby too doesn't come out of the set too well, reduced to a cover of 'Hey Joe' 'Everybody Has Been Burned' and 'Dolphin's Smile', although at least McGuinn relented enough to allow the Crosby single 'Lady Friend' through in it's rightful place. Gene Parsons and Skip Battin fare even less well, getting nothing in terms of writing credits, despite the set being rather slanted towards their era of the band (amazingly Crosby has left midway through the second disc!) Only Hillman (as well as Roger himself) comes out of the set well, with all but one of his 'Younger Than Yesterday' songs intact (sadly there's no room for his best, 'Thoights and Words') and most of his songs for 'Notorious' (although again 'Change Is Now' is missing - I'm starting to see a pattern here...) The person who comes out of this set best though is Bob Dylan, with no less than 17 songs across the set - more than The Byrds released in their own lifetime thanks to one reunion song, a live 'Tambourine Man'  and outtake 'Just Like A Woman' (That's every single one The Byrds ever did bar the 1969 remake of 'It's All Over Now Baby Blue'!)
The big selling point of this set was of course the impressive total of 24 previously unissued recordings (counting totally unreleased songs or fully unreleased alternate takes - we don't count the remixes as they're not all that different!) These range from the silly (a muddled version of 'Roll Over Beethoven' taped live on an off day in 1967) to the sublime (the twin pair of Gram Parsons/Chris Hillman outtakes 'Reputation' and Lazy Days', in which you can hear the spark of The Flying Burrito Brothers forming right before your ears). A four track mini concert from 1970 is an interesting find, a 1989 reunion for a Roy Orbison tribute night with special guest Bob Dylan less so, whilst four new reunion recordings were what swung the box set for many fans, desperate to hear what McGuinn, Hillman and Crosby sounded like together (the four songs are detailed below) and proud of them for putting their feud aside for a short time to help maintain their legacy (they even recorded an unreleased-at-the-time Dylan song, just like the old days!) The result is sadly a bit of an anticlimax at the end of the set though: Roger gets two songs (including the best one of the four, an updating of 1965's 'He Was A Friend Of Mine') plus a Dylan song he takes command on, leaving Hillman a song to pick (the rather tired choice of 'From A Distance', even back in 1990 when the song was new) and Crosby - perhaps with memories of the 1973 reunion album - gets nothing. Gene and Michael apparently weren't even asked, a response to their '20th Anniversary Tour' that had so got on the trio's nerves - the drummer didn't really care and was all but retired, but for Gene it would have been a welcome lifeline and the 'CRY' tapes suggest he had a lot of suitable material ready had they just given him a call. The reunion had the chance to really be something and it was at least better than nothing - but had the band really let bygones be bygones and grouped together one last time (Clarke died in 1991 and Clark in 1993, so it really would have been the last time) it would have been a fine way to end their career. Instead it all feels a bit shabby.
The same goes for the set as a whole: at the time, when there was no alternative out there, this was a welcome chance for Byrdsians to get lots of great material in one go, with old favourites in sparkling sound nestling alongside lost and forgotten tracks. The minute the individual CDs came out though, this set became largely redunadant, now sought after chiefly for the 1967 'Roll Over Beethoven', the parts of the 1970 mini-concert not featured on the superlative 'Untitled' re-issue and three of the reunon tracks. The booklet is nice but flimsy, beaten hands down by the individual booklets used on each of the CDs in a few years time, while the packaging of the CDs themselves leaves much to be desired (computer animated drawings to fit four 'concepts' that don't really work: 'Ignition' 'Full Flight' etc). Thankfully The Byrds did the sensible thing and, rather than simply re-issue this set cheaper when it went out of print, did things properly with 'Just A Season' (the sequel in 2010). Though far from perfect and with an even odder election of unreleased songs, it features input from everybody and a much fairer assesment of who the Byrds were and what they stood for. This set did it's job at the time but is now largely just a pretty ornament  to have on the shelf, a memory of a time when we were not so lucky to have The Byrds' albums so readily available released back when the band were still at war with one another.

 Roger McGuinn "Back From Rio"
(Arista,  January 1991)
Someone To Love/Car Phone/You Bowed Down/Suddenly Blue/The Trees Are All Gone//King Of The Hill/Without Your Love/The Tiome Has Come/Your Love Is A Gold Mine/If We Never Meet Again
"I suppose you're entitled to know why I'm making contact, with appointments scattered all over the land, I promised you now and agian there I'd honour the contact, if it hadn't crinkled away in my hands"
There was a running joke Roger used to play on the press whenever one of the hapless reporters (who probably thought the Byrds were an all-girl group until they got the interview assignment that morning) came across the old Byrds records, saw the name 'Jim McGuinn' and assumed Roger must be an imposter - the brother or perhaps cousin of the original lead guitarist, not knowing that he'd simply changed his name. 'What happened to Jim?' they'd ask. 'Oh - he went to Rio' Roger would quip back, painting a portrait of life in retirement that his alter ego was enjoying and sounding rather envious. After a disappointing run of records and the end of his solo record contract (along with the natural end of McGuinn Clark and Hillman), Roger decided to slink away quietly and kept in touch with his public simply through solo concert tours which grew better but smaller with each passing gig. The joke came back to haunt him. 'What happened to Roger?' some press guy would ask David, Gene or Chris about their old companion. If they were caught in a jovial mood they'd simply review 'Oh last I heard he was in Rio'. By 1991 the game had changed: McGuinn's profile was never higher thanks not to new product but to the rehabilitation of the old; the reunion of the original Byrds at the rock and roll hall of fame (after 17 years apart), the resulting box set and the rather good CD re-issues of the band's back catalogue. Now suddenly the record labels were interested in giving the man behind the Rickenbacker sound another shot at fame - and suddenly Roger was 'back from Rio' (or at least oblivion).
There are two ways of looking at the resulting record. On it's own terms it isn't much and features a dissapointingly small and average set of songs considering that Roger had had over a decade since his last studio appearance to get writing. The production is also sappy and overblown, more 1980s than 1990s, with an in-your-face sheen that doeswn't suit McGuinn's voice or personality. As a long awaited comeback it's lacklustre and predictable - by and large excatly what you'd expect a McGuinn comeback zalbum to be, with guest stars and big name fans like Tom Petty, Elvis Costello and old comrade David Crosby shoe-horned in anywhere they can fit (and plenty of places where they don't. However, it must have been difficult to make an album after so long away and what impresses you most about this record is how confident everything sounds. Had Roger taken command of his own destiny a bit earlier his records might have all been terrific with the added bite of this record. Best of all he's finally given way to the inevitable and placed this album in at least the same timezone as the sound of the original Byrds: never in his career had McGuinn released an album with this much Rickenbacker insteasd of bowing to Crosby, Gram Parsons or Clarence White and it's a delight: he should have done this years ago. There's also a few nice fan-pleasing references thrown in: 'Car Phone' relates more of the 'Rio' story and ends with the solo from 'Eight MIles High' while 'You Bowed Down' is virtually a request for forgiveness from listeners after being so long away. Nothing here pushes Roger to his limits as much as it should, but at least this is Roger McGuinn's comfort zone we're invited to this time, not the one of his band or his producers. While the first inconsistent but rather interesting album probably wins on points, 'Back From Rio' is a pleasing second-best from McGuinn's solo output - which isn't bad going for an album made after a 14 year gap in his canon!
'Someone To Love' sounds like it could have been a Byrds song and actually has more in common with one of Gene Clark's later songs than Roger's usual style (repetitiveness as an art form and folky touches). The song never quite settles down and makes the most of the rather good riff at it's heart, while the lyrics are a touch boring, basically re-writing the Jefferson Aorplane song 'Somebody To Love' without much fire. Still, it's a pretty song played well.
Personally I've always felt McGuinn is at his best when dispnesing with his 'everyman' tones and acting as the mad eccentric professor we think he sceretly is. 'Car Phone' is a mad song, but a good one, with McGuinn's obsession over what was then a brand new trinket a novelty song and the dangers associated with it (not just accidents from distactions to drivers but phone-tapping from FBI agents and even aliens picking up the radio waves!) With a strong nagging riff and a great backing track full of more life than the last three solo albums combined, 'Car Phone' is the most 'complete' song here - even if it's on a subject matter at least as oddball in the context of 1991 as 'The Lear Jet Song' and 'CTA-102'. The ending is particularly interesting: a girl is on her way to see 'Jim McGuinn' whose 'Back From Rio' play at a gig - although she must be quite a fan as she's already admitted she's picking him up from the airport (right, that's it; the next issue of Alan's Album Archives might be late this week - I've decided to pick up David Crosby!) Note too the fact that the character in the song is called 'Chris' - was Roger prompted to write this about Hillman? (Of course it's quite possible he knows other 'Chris'-es - or was simply using this as a nice easy rhyme for the word 'this'). Roger then plays his single greatest guitar solo of his solo career, channelling all those years of revisiting 'Eight Miles High' as an eccentric acoustic guitar showcase, while Roger nicks the main hook from The Beatles' 'A Day In The Life: 'He blew his mind out in a car...' An updated memory from the 1960s, this is how all 'comeback' albums should have been pitched at the start of the 'nostalgia' decade and easily the best song on the album.
'You Bowed Down' is another good song, a Dylanesque song from Elvis Costello that strangely seems to be commenting on Roger's years out of the limelight. Quite why Elvis wrote this song is unknown (he has a new album out of year oblivious as to whether he or it is ready) but it seems very much to be about a 'comeback' after a time away. Costello's vocals don't really fit with Roger's but the song is a surprisngly good fit: I'd be quite happy to believe this was one of his own folkier tracks had I not paid close attention to the credits.
'Suddenly Blue' sounds like a poppier re-write of the past few songs; one that doesn't really have a lot to add that's new. 'Only yesterday your love was here to stay - now I'm suddenly blue'. Yawn. Thank goodness for the Rickenbacker guitar or this song would be lifeless.
'The Trees Are All Gone' is a surprise ecological protest song from Roger and his wife Camilla. The thought of empty forests is enough to coax one of Roger's better vocals out of him (we haven't heard him this angry since 'Lover Of The Bayou') and the lyric about world leaders 'hiding behind their powers and never telling us the truth' is more like a Crosby one (only once, on the glorious 'King Apathy III', was Roger ever quite this political). Unfortunately Roger was a little late to the table: ecological protest songs were a 1980s sub-genre and there's nothing said on this track no one else hadn't said better (the rhyme of 'gone' and 'wrong' in the chorus is pretty suspect too). Still both heart and Rickenbacker are undeniably in the right place.
'King Of The Hill' was heralded by many Byrds fans as a classic. It's certainly superior to most of the Byrd reunion projects over the years, with glorious harmony vocals from a guesting Crosby and mega-Byrds fan Tom Petty, who effectively plays Gene Clark's role here (although his croaky vocal is closer to Dylan) and co-writes the song with Roger. The lyric, about feeling pleased with yourself and knowing it's wrong but being 'still unsatisfied' even so, is peculiar though: what message is this song trying to tell us? That we're all ego-maniacs at heart? That it's alright to feel full of your own importance sometimes but not to take it too far? Or is this song lyric even a dig at Crosby's behvaiour while in the band?! (Compare and contrast with his own 'Long Live The King!')
'Without Your Love' is a treacly love song by Roger and Camilla. A love letter to each other about all the great things they used to do and how they ought to do more of them, you can just imagine them looking at each other doey-eyed while writing this Abba-soundalike. Sadly this song was probably a lot more fun to write than it is to listen to, however, and even a second guesting Crosby vocal** can't do anything to save this slowed-down torture. Roger was never really known for love songs during his Byrds career - 'Pale Blue' being the only one not written for his Gene Tryp character to sing - this is why. Aliens and spacemen and even tiffany lamps are much more interesting than this.
'The Time Has Come' is another song that sounds written on auto-pilot. Terrible 1980s drum sound: check. Lots of shiny Rickenbacker: double check. Incomprehensible lyric about wanting to come back after a long time away: you betcha. For all of this song's cliches about 'picking up the pieces' and 'turning things around', however, this is no 'Full Circle' never mind 'Turn! Turn! Turn!'
Roger's final song on the album is much better. 'Your Love Is A Gold Mine' features a spooky echo-drenched inversion of the usual guitar sound and a strong production that sounds more Dire Straits-ish than Byrdsy. Roger speak-sings the lyrics which is surprisngly effective, telling us a long list of diamonds his girl seems like - it's not going to win any awards for poetry or originality but the tune is highly effective at capturing Roger's awe at the limitless ways his wife surprises him.
Jules Shear's song 'If We Never Meet Again' closes the album and suggests that Roger is already determined not to make another album, however well this one does (and 'Rio' did rather well, making ** in the charts). 'When all the talking stops, I want to have a little something else' he sighs, before singing about being worried about 'glorifying our past'. In context it's a bit of an uncomfortable song actually: Roger's made this album for us, not for him - he'd rather have dissapeared and gone back to Rio for real.
If that really is the last from Roger outside his ongoig 'folk den' project, then at least he took the time to give us a 'proper' goodbye this time instead of leaving us hanging. Pointing to both why Roger felt he had nothing left to say and why the world has been bereft without him since his 'semi-retiremenmt' from studio work, 'Back From Rio' is something of a mixed blessing. While it's not as good as we hoped it might be, it';s a lot better than we feared - and after the likes of 'McGuinn and Ban'd and 'Thunderbyrd' that in itself is a major improvement. Let's hope Roger comes back from Rio again sometime soon and gives us that one last great album you sense is still within him.

The Desert Rose Band (Featuring Chris Hillman) "True Love"
(Curb, July 1991)
You Can Go Home/It Takes A Believer/Twilight Is Gone/No One Else/A Matter Of Time/Undying Love/Behind These Walls/True Love/Glory and Power/Shades Of Blue
"You can go home - but you can't go back"
By now the Desert Rose Band were in something of a creative slump, with the single from the record - You Can Go Home - peaking at #59 on the country charts and the album missing it altogether, not to mention the 'mainstream' charts. Having been through all this several times over with The Byrds, Flying Burritos, Manassas and Souther-Hillman-Furay (who all made disappointing 'follow-up' records to one extent or another), Hillman must have been wondering what he'd done wrong. If you were to buy this record out of order then it might be hard to tell - 'True Love' is no better or worse than any of the other Desert Rose albums, with a similar mixture of bland filler and sudden inspiration, filled with the usual laidback yet occasionally virtuoso performances. It's also very much written to the same formula: this is yet another half-concept album about nostalgia and being on the road and feeling old and...hang on a minute, that's half the problem right there. The Desert Rose Band were a breath of frsh air when they came out, a slightly more bluegrassed version of the Flying Burritos that tried to find the middle ground between rock and country, which hadn't been heard since the 1970s. The band could have gone on to shake up the charts even further, but the fourth similar sounding album in a row meant a lot of fans went 'why bother?' and moved on to the next big thing. Hillman admitted later that he went down the middle of the road a bit more than intended because of record company pressure and 'should have listened more to my intuition' that the record wasn't turning out right. But that's a little unfair: 'True Love' doesn't sound any worse than the other band records - it just doesn't sound any better and the band desperately needed a strong album here to keep the momentum flowing.
Like the third record but even more so, this is the Desert Rose Band on auto-pilot. Pedal steel guitarist Jay Dee Maness has left the band, taking a lot of the band's distinctive country lilt with him and leaving the band as a trio. Even a guest appearance by fellow bluegrass star-of-the-moment violinist Alison Krauss on 'Undying Love' can't make up for the gap in the band's sound. Most of the songs are being written by Hillman now, with and without collaborator Steve Hill, and the cover songs are now being written out of the band's sound. That shouldn't be an issue - we know how great Chris can be when he's inspired and surrounded by good friends and band members and this album does occasionally spark into life: 'Twilight Is Gone', for instance, is a lovely song about the fragmenting of another relationship that had it been written by Gram Parsons would have been hailed as a country weepie masterpiece. Hillman is also brave enough to try out some of his old rock strutting on 'A Matter Of Time', the one song here that tries to go somewhere new. The title track is quite fun too in a daft catchy way - this rocky poppy 'True Love' couldn't be less like the hoary crooning ballad of the same name.
The greatest song on the album though - and one of the best Desert Rose Band songs - is 'Glory and Power', taking bits and pieces here and there from all sorts of past Hillman references: the narrator's world turns all around his lover, surrounded by people who 'walk away and cry'. For a time I thought Chris might have been writing about Gene Clark here, especially given that the song is in the past tense and poor Gene died a mere month before the albunm's release. After all what other musician had such a difficult time mebracing then hiding from 'glory and power?' However the timing seems too close and many of these verses read more personal than that. My conclusion is that it's Hillman himself whose the 'man whose angry and he doesn't know why', who 'never has the words to say' what is on his mind and his difficulty talking about his feelings leads to the one he loves always walking away (conversely Gene's problem was being too in touch with his feelings). Hillman outreaches himself lyrically here, claiming that the myth about diamonds being a girl's best friend is rubbish - what they really need is a 'mighty warrior with an ear that bends', a figure who can be tough yet sensitive - Hillman sadly admits he's not up to the task. We haven't heard the 'real' Chris for a while on these albums, as he understandably tries to offer a clean slate with his new band that touches on more universal theme, but this autobiographical gem is a welcome return to his writing style of the 1970s, a little out of place tucked away near the end of this record but the clear album highlight nonetheless.
One classic then and three interesting supporting songs - that's actually not a bad return for an album of ten songs (and arguably better odds than famous albums like 'Sweetheart Of The Rodeo' and 'The Gilded Palace Of Sin'). However there's still clearly a gulf between a record like this and a record like one of those two - the talent is there but the ambition is lacking for a lot of the album, the Desert Rose Band slowly sinking back into ordinaryness, with the flashes of brilliance only making you more sad that they can't maintain the same across a whole LP. This isn't an album that's trying to change the world, unite two warring styles or deliver the kind of material people have never heard before; it's warm safe and cosy. There's a place for albums like that in music of course, but the sad thing is that the album works best when it isn't being warm safe and cosy, The Desert Rose Band fulfilling their potential only when they step out of their comfort zones.
Roger McGuinn  "Born To Rock and Roll"
(Columbia, August 1991)
I'm So Restless/My New Woman/Draggin'/The Water Is Wide/Same Old Sound/Bag Full Of Money/Gate Of Horn/Peace On You/Lover Of The Bayou (Solo Version)/Stone/Lisa/Take Me Away/Jolly Roger/Friend/Dreamland/Dixie Highway/American Girl/Up To Me/Russian Hill/Born To Rock and Roll (Solo Version)
"Sometimes you get to do the things you were meant for - and I was born to rock and roll!"
Released to cash in on both the success of the recent Byrds compilations and McGuinn's well received comeback album, 'Born To Rock and Roll' was Columbia's attempt to sum up Roger's albums between his debut in 1973 up to 'Thunderbyrd' in 1977 and was the first time the guitarist had ever had a compilation of his own material. The set was especially welcome back in the day when none of these albums had yet appeared on CD or had been re-issued to any great length, although sadly there were no added bonuses for collectors or unissued tracks. At twenty songs the set is good value for money though - and some would say that's it's rather too generous given that it covers just five rather mixed albums. Sensibly the compilers decide to play safe, with six tracks from the superior 'Roger McGuinn' album (though sadly not 'Time Cube', the best thing on it), going down to two for 'Peace On You', three for 'Roger McGuinn and Band', five from 'Cardiff Rose' (which is at least three too many) and two from 'Thunderbyrd'. Thankfully many of the better songs from Roger's career are here, including his cover of Joni Mitchell's 'Dreamland', the sea shanty 'Jolly Roger' and most of the better songs from this first LP. However it would have been nice if the person managing this set had continued with their original plan of having these songs in chronological order (correct until track five, the album then goes back and forth like a yo-yo) and a little extra packaging barring a rather large and scary close up of McGuinn's face wouldn't have gone amiss. I'm also not convinced after hearing this set that Roger was 'born' for 'rock and roll' - in fact of this whole 20-track set the rather limp re-make of 'Lover Of The Bayou' is the only recording here that comes close.  Still, there are worse compilations round and it would be nice to see this set out agasin some day.

John York "Sacred Path Songs"
(No Guru,  Recorded 1991, Released April 2001)
Drum: Invocation Iroquois/Earth Mother Flute/Omaha Tribal Player/Pomo Clapperstick Blues/Winged Ones/Ancestors/Cherokee Cradleboard Song/Thunderbeings/Sky Daughter Flute-Eagle's Quest/Shaman's Death/Lover's Duet/Just One Arrow
"So you've come for your reading Mr McGuinn? I see a tambourine man in your future, turning turning turning, before you meet a spaceman and ride away on a chestnut mare. What's that? Will the band you're in stay together? Well, let's just say there's plenty of changes in your life..."
There's weird and then there's...weird!!! Easily the most bonkers Byrds release since 'Mind Gardens' back in 1967, the fact that 'Sacred Path Songs' was an accompanying CD that came with a set of 'sacred path cards' by Jamie Sams (a sort of American Indian cross between tarot cards and a self-help book) tells you all you need to know about York's new audience. The cards 'teach' you how best to re-act to certain circumstances and are divided into immovable 'stone' people (no, not stoned people!), standing people (trees) and two legged ones (humans). That in itself makes this set sound very like a 'Byrds' project - a kind of 'Easy Rider' with real Indians and a 'real' spiritual journey! However it was the music that got most of the better responses from reviewers and helped put York back in the public eye a full 22 years after he left The Byrds and made his last released recordings (makes you wonder what his sacred path cards told him at the time!) This isn't, then, a 'proper' album in the traditional Western sense of the word - there are no lyrics, few voices and not much in the way of melodies but York does display his multi-instrumentalist gift on a wide variety of music and the resulting relaxing listen beats whale-song anyday. This is also, incidentally, the first Byrds-related project where the songs 'run into' each other since 'Manassas' in 1972 so it would be unfair to single some songs out. However 'Omaha Tribal Prayer' was the most moving moment for me, a tribe of native Indians chanting in prayer over a series of woodwind and percussion glides - the effect could have been straight out of 'Notorious Byrd Brothers'! Against all the odds, this set sold well and both CD and cards have been reprinted seperately quite a few times down the years. Spooky cocincidence 3000: the card I 'got' when using this set was thew 'stone card' named 'records'  - actually meaning the 'revealing of knowledge' but, hey, we all know it means I'm going to be dpoing a lot of listening to Byrds releases this week!

McGuinn Clark and Hillman "Return Flight I and II"
(Edsel,  Recorded 1978-81, Released 1991/1992)
Volume I: Long Long Time/Don't You Write Her Off/Surrender To Me/Backstage Pass/Sad Boy/Who Taught The Night?/City/Givin' Herself Away/Let Me Down Easy/Between You and Me/Angel/King For A Night/Turn Your Radio On/Skate Date
Volume II: Little Mama/Stopping Traffic/Feelin' Higher/Release Me Girl/Bye Bye Baby/One More Chance/Won't Let You Down/Street Talk/Deeper In/Painted Fire/Mean Streets/Entertainment/Soul Shoes/Love Me Tonight/A Secret Side Of You/Ain't No Money/Making Movies
"How long will it trake to earn an Oscar nomination?"
A kind of 'best-of' for the McGuinn-Clark-Hillman years (which only lasted three years), this used to be a useful place to find three increasingly rare albums but has been rather superceded by the complete two disc set 'The Capitol Collection' from about ten years later. As a result you don't really need to go looking for this set anymore, which is rarer hard to find these days anyway, but for the record it's a fairly good attempt to get the best of the three records in one place. Volume One is by far the best, featuring a lot of songs from the first album (including highlights 'Surrender To Me' and 'Backstage Pass' along with hit single 'Don't You Write Her Off') as well as some of the better material from the next two records (such as 'City' and 'Don't Turn Your Radio Off'). Personally I'd have loved to have Gene's farewell song 'Won't Let You Down' and rare McGuinn/Hillman collaboration 'Entertainment' here too - especially over songs like 'Skate Date' and 'Angel' that represent thew worst of the trio's work together - but they're both on the second volume so at least that's something I suppose. In total these two albums cover everything the partnership came up with - even 1981 B-side 'Makin' Movies' - which is good value for money (these sets tend to run to more like 50 minutes than the original money, especially the longer second), although a bit more chronology among the track listing would be nice (all three have such a distinctive sound that they seem a bit odd when heard jumbled up together). The outside packaging could be better too, although there's avery handy song guide inside and there's a clever album title which is about the biggest link to The Byrds amongst the entire trilogy. Overall a pretty handy guide to the tantrums, triumphs and tragedies that befell this most unloved of Byrds reunions.

No comments:

Post a Comment