Monday, 16 March 2015

The Moody Blues "Sur La Mer" (1988)

The Moody Blues "Sur La Mer" (1988)

I Know You're Out There Somewhere/Want To Be With You/River Of Endless Love/No More Lies/Here Comes The Weekend//Vintage Wine/Breaking Point/Miracle/Love Is On The Run/Deep

"I remember the taste of vintage grape from 63 through to 68, but recently the music's started to vinegrate, all too easy to miss, all too usual to hate, I wished they'd go back to the things they believed in then, and it really was the same without the need to pretend, but every so often The Moodies still sound young and free and every bit as great as they always were - or at least they do to me, oh-h-h, oh-h-h, oh-h-h-h-h-h-h!'

Here we are two years on with The Moody Blues no longer enjoying 'The Other Side Of Life' but 'In The Water' (as the literal interpretation of the title would have it). The two albums really come as a pair and much the same points as last time apply: this is a noisy synth-driven poppy Moody Blues who'll most likely appal fans of their multi-layered haunting earlier works but might well shock some of your OMD and Madonna loving friends into how convincingly the Moodies sound like they belong to this era. There's no getting away from the fact that the band sold far better in this period than they'd ever done before so were clearly appealing to someone - although all too often as the album wears on us older fans get the sneaking suspicion that it isn't us anymore and for many fans this album is the last straw (or, to quote one of the album's lyrics, our breaking point). This time the band aren't dipping their toe in the waters of synth land (as on the rather pleasing 'The Present' album in 1983) or taking a first full bath (as per 'The Other Side') but have dived in head first, with only 'Vintage Wine' recalling anything now from the past sound that made them famous (and this track quoted from above - well sort of - good as it is, sounds woefully out of place as a consequence). The results, oddly, are rather better this time around, perhaps because of the fact that the band are no longer pretending to straddle the two eras: they're a modern act, ready to play by modern rules, whatever that takes - sometimes that results in selling out good and proper and yet more horrid filler fluff, but occasionally - just occasionally - The Moody Blues hit gold. The difference is that 'The Other Side Of Life' was the album the Moodies had to make, to keep them fresh and relevant; this album has less excuse for compounding the felony.

I say that in the knowledge that for many people reading this era 'is' The Moody Blues. I've always been impressed at how well the Moodies were able to grow their fanbase as the years went on and their records became further and further apart (of the AAA bands only Belle and Sebastian have been able to do something similar and they started from as near-to-nothing as you can get so were always going to do better). Bigger live shows and regular compilations keeping them in the public eye are a major part of it (not to mention regular re-issues of classic single 'Nights In White Satin') but there's something more than that. Look at how readily the band approach their music in this era the same way that younger newer bands would do and all but abandon their sixties sensibility: they don't just make music videos because they have to they embrace them, turning the songs into actual stories; they use all the latest technology on their recordings so that they sound as bang up to date as possible; they break the habits of a lifetime by giving up on well orchestrated albums weaved through with half-themes, mega concepts and a little bit of magic and instead go for the jugular: ten albums that all stand out immediately (though not always for the right reasons). While I don't whole heartedly approve (The Moody Blues had so much more to offer than they ever get a chance to post-break-up and a hippie view of the eighties from the 'inside' could potentially have made for some fascinating discussions), I do have a sneaky respect for how well The Moody Blues managed to update their career and stay popular long after the point when most of our AAA bands had peaked. Had the Moodies not re-branded themselves so successfully they might well have ended up has-beens a lot quicker, which would have been an even bigger tragedy. But as per the last record, do they have to sound so eager about signing their future death warrant? (being in fashion in any year is great news - until the year after when a new fashion has come in and you're effectively old and dated twice over). 'Sur La Mer' isn't classic Moodies even if it sounded that way a little back in 1988 when this sound was new; alas a quarter of a century on and records like this one (so over-reliant on technology pinpointed to a particular section of time) sound far older than anything from the sixties do.

There's a worrying slide too from the democracy that this band once were and which had held just about even through 'The Other Side' (even if you could see where the tide was turning). Justin and John write everything between them. Patrick plays practically everything, bar the odd bit of guitar and bass work. Drummer Graeme Edge seems to have turned up simply to check that the synth drums were programmed properly and helping out at rehearsals. Flautist Ray Thomas doesn't even do that much: displeased by the direction the band were taking in the studio, but unwilling to give up the touring work which still faintly resembled what the band always were, he simply stayed at home when the sessions were taking place (he isn't listed in the musicians credits, although his photo is used in the cheery toddler shots on the inside front cover). This leads to the uncomfortable sleeve credit: 'The Moody Blues are...' followed by 'Playing on this album are...'. Back in the old days - even the old days of 1981/83 - the band were there all day every day, ready to take turns coming up with different arrangements on a variety of instruments whether they had anything specific to work on or not - now half the band aren't even taking part in the recording of an album with their name on it. It's like the luddite revolution all over again - these robot synthesisers coming over here, stealing our jobs...The ironic thing is that, while John and Justin have long been 'in charge' of the band (certainly since Mike Pinder left in 1978) they gamble wrong: the band do need their 'other' members desperately. Without them, without even the cameo appearances on 'The Other Side', 'Sur La Mer' sounds as if it's an ersatz (or perhaps Moraz?) Moody Blue album, with far less of the band 'sound' than even two years before. The band are clearly in trouble.

That said, I like this album a lot more than 'The Other Side'. Both Justin and John have upped their game considerably, perhaps feeling that as they've put the band at risk of splitting up they have to get it right or else they've thrown away their heritage for nothing. Lodge's songs for 'Other Side' were largely abysmal: 'Like a rock I'm gonna roll over you *SMASH*' for nigh on five whole minutes, a drippy song about love being a fire and some odd guff about 'slings and arrows' that sounded like that commercial that really irritates you on TV (no I don't have a specific one in mind - they all sound the same and they all sound like this). But here Lodge comes up with the gorgeous punchy chorus on 'Want To Be With You' (a Hayward collaboration that knocks spots off anything else arrangement wise on this album) and comes up with 'Breaking Point', a chilling prog rock song of paranoia that sounds like something the band of twenty years ago would have invented had they had access to this technology. Hayward flexes his creative muscles, coming up with one all-time classic that would sound good from any era (deserved hit single 'I Know You're Out There Somewhere'), two songs that recall former glories ('Vintage Wine' and 'No More Lies') and one fascinating experimental song that makes good use of the modern sounds around him ('Deep'). While the other four songs aren't much cop, that's already a healthier selection of songs than last time around, with the band clearly making more of an effort at the writing stage as well as the recording one.

Once again the band have elected to work with big name producer (and ex-husband of two big Beatle names, Apple signing Mary Hopkin and Lennon 'Lost Weekend' girlfriend May Pang) Tony Visconti. We didn't talk about this much last time, but having heard the third album in this sequence 'Keys To The Kingdom' recently (an album which Visconti left partway through the sessions) I think I've under-rated what a part he plays in both projects. With him involved The Moody Blues sound young and dynamic, however wretchedly so that might be. Without him they sound faintly laughable, like a man having a middle-aged crisis and trying act young and whimsical without ever really getting back to his youth (it's a record full of tap-dances, bizarre codas that keep coming back in long after the song should have finished and a bizarre throwback in 'Celtic Sonant' that would have been booted off even a sixties Moodies album for being too 'self-indulgent'!) Most notably Moraz never sounds quite the same on that album (he'll leave the band soon after, mainly for a reunion of his old band Yes) - were the band just having an off-day? Or did Visconti know all sorts of production secrets the band didn't?

Talking of sounding 'young', perhaps the best thing about the whole of 'Sur La Mer' (except the stunning opening track) is the gorgeous inner sleeve. Just when The Moodies are trying to 'pretend' at being young, they remind us of just how they've come and celebrate their 21st birthday with shots of them as youngsters. There are no captions to give us clues so forgive me if I'm wrong, but I think the order is: the left column top Hayward (he still has 'that' look and a blonde hairdo!), Lodge in the middle (with the same cheeky grin!) and Thomas at the bottom (the hair and ears are impossible to mistake!) I'm not quite so sure about the right column - I think that's Graeme top right in the turban (he's wearing one and playing the drums in the other pictures, though I'm not quite sure why he's wearing it...) Patrick's equally cheesy grin in the middle and Tony Visconti looking very serious at the bottom. There's another collection of photographs of the band when they were young elsewhere too, a collage of the band in various poses at the seaside: Justin looks right at home in the sea, John's having a great time building a sandcastle and - perhaps in a joke at how the sessions are going - a be-trunked Thomas scowls, pouring scorn on everyone whose bought this album! (These are far more interesting - and relevant - by the way than the front cover, a painting named 'Le Fort D'antibes' (a real place in between Cannes and Nice) by Nicolas De Stael, which the Beatleheads amongst you might member was Stuart Sutcliffe's favourite artist (while the others were busy renaming themselves 'LOng John Lennon' 'Carl Harrison' and 'Paul Ramon' in the Silver Beatles, the bassist became Stuart Da Stael in his honour and one of his paintings would surely have been used in some Beatle packaging somewhere had Sutcliffe stayed a member; 'Beatles For Stael' anyone?)

The Moodies have clearly raided their mums dads and grandparent's lofts for these shots to illustrate the 'Sur La Mer' theme, but there isn't really a theme of water in this album ('River Of Endless Love' aside) - that would be silly (unless you're The Beach Boys, when it's only natural). Instead the kiddies pics seem to be here to illustrate another album theme: one of nostalgia. While obviously nostalgia for times past has been around since probably the day after Adam and Eve were 'made' (they probably reminisced with the snake over breakfast) nostalgia for something cultural becomes a big commodity round about 1988. By this point it's been long enough for the sixties to have gone by for people to realise the dreams they hold then won't happen anymore - and yet it's not long enough for people to have forgotten what they were like either. While people think of it as more of a 1990s trend (with the world getting ever closer to the line-in-the-sand that was the millennium), it's actually here at the very end of the decade that this trend starts. Many of the bands that made it big in the first half of the 60s (The Moodies included) are having 25 year anniversaries - unthinkable at the time when pop was meant to be impermanent - and the longer running time of CDs mean re-issues and box sets with new tracks are suddenly big sellers, much more so than merely copy-catting tracks on vinyl with a different cover. The Moody Blues, whilst trying to stay young and fresh, were also canny enough to play on their heritage, hence that spiel on the back cover about it being 21 years since 'Days Of Future Passed' and quoting in a corny way all their old songs (you wouldn't catch us doing that sort of cheap quip, although we QUESTION whether any fan born to THE CHILDRERN'S CHILDREN'S CHILDREN have ever paid that much attention to the JUST SINGERS IN A ROCK AND ROLL BAND's sleevenotes, quite a different beast in the CD era to the days of vinyl, anyway). This sort of thing would have seemed daft even in 1986 (when CDs didn't really exist in the mainstream yet) but makes perfect sense here on an album that has Justin talking fondly about the 'things we believed in then' on 'Vintage Wine' and on which the album's opening song is not only a sequel to an earlier work ('Your Wildest Dreams' - and arguably that was a sequel to much of the 'Blue Jays' songs like 'Who Are You Now?' and 'I Dreamed Last Night') but has the narrator crying out for his first love and willing her into the present. 'Sur La Mer' isn't really together enough to have a theme running through it - it's more a collection of ten different pop songs - but the closest is this thought of trying to willing the past to happen again.

Last minute addition: sometimes on researching these reviews even an old anorak like me learns something new. Apparently the 'Sur La Mer' theme refers not to the idea of 'water' at all, but the fact that all these songs were written 'in the key of C' '(sea' Geddit?!)  Ha that's clever - if worrying (it's never good when the only songs a band can write are in the simplest key, the one without any black notes; no wonder this album sounds so lightweight and airheaded at times!) How ironic then that this album ends with a song called 'Deep'... Interestingly no modern pictures of the band appear anywhere in the packaging, the only record till 'December' that does this- did they really not want the record-buyers to see them looking old?

In a way it's a shame that the Moodies didn't try harder to tie all their songs into this theme, or at least one about the problems of growing up (something that 'Breaking Point' touches on too). As it is songs like 'Here Comes The Weekend' (Dooodooodooodoooo...', sorry it's impossible to hear that title without adding the riff, which is twice as infectious as Ebola and not something you really want to catch) 'Miracle' and 'Love Is On The Run' sound even more hopeless than on the last album, devoid of any point or reason except trying to be the band's idea of a contemporary pop song that badly fails. Even the songs that do work tend to sound better when you come across them unawares (an mp3 player on random for instance) instead of stuck together on the sound morass (Moraz?) of this album: 'Somewhere' is a killer single, somehow less convincing when heard as the opening to a full album of lesser attempts at a similar sound; 'Want To Be With You' is a great song crying out for a 'stripped down remix'; 'Breaking Point' and 'Deep' sound stilted after similar but less relentless soundscapes despite being genuinely inventive and pioneering, while 'Vintage Wine' is out of place, an all too convincing argument for going back to the old days and making the sort of music the band once used to effortlessly.

I guess really it all just comes down to taste (well so does every album come to think of it, but that would put me out of a job so don't think like that...) Do you prefer to have a record where the beauty is more than skin-deep and where you and your beloved purchase can spend hours discussing life, the universe and everything together? Or do you simply choose to have fun with an airheaded bimbo, whose less rewarding but far less work? There's a case to be made that albums like 'Sur La Mer' deserve to exist - but they don't tend to be the ones anybody talks about years on, except for completists like me; it's 'In Search Of The Lost Chord' and 'Seventh Sojourn' that excite and get the pulses rating - this album just leaves you clock-watching and waiting for the good bits to come on. The fact that I'm finding songs to single out for praise though - and not just the singles this time around - proves that 'Sur La Mer' has done something right compared to it's predecessor and if you can forgive the dates sound, the awkward filler, the lack of band vocals, the absence of almost any 'real' instruments and the lack of contributions from Thomas and Edge then there's a fine album in here somewhere. It's just that no fan in their right mind should have to make quite that many concessions to hear an album by a band as established and successful as The Moody Blues. While 'Sur La Mer' is indeed an improvement, most fans have long since stopped caring or resigned themselves to the fact that the Moody Blues they know and loved are gone and dead - the titbits that hark back to the olden days in this album (and which sound so much better) seem doubly cruel. Perhaps The Moody Blues should have named this album 'Tout A La Mer' ('All At Sea') instead.

It's a curious aspect that The Moody Blues should spend most of the 1980s getting it so wrong - and yet for one glorious moment got it all so right. 'I Know You're Out There Somewhere' is a song that's stuffed to the gunnels with the same array of twinkling irritating synths and expressionless drums of the rest of the period and yet this charming pop single doesn't put a foot wrong. Returning to the same theme of wondering whatever happened to some from your past as 'Your Wildest Dreams', Hayward goes one better by actively searching for his first love. Many 80s Moodies songs play it safe, but this one sacrifices all caution to the wind, adding in a daring middle eight that's almost-but-not-quite instrumental ('Yes I know I'll find you somewhere...') and causing Hayward to use every last inch of his impressive vocal range, from sweet falsetto to gruff bass on the line 'I can see the way ahead' and all it's variations. Along with the zingy melody that won't sit still for second, it's clear that Hayward is going to search high and low for his soulmate. Not that this song is in anyway contrived - for one brief shining moment it's like the sixties again with the song's twists and turns dictated by emotion and instinct, rather than planned to the ninth detail. While Justin still hasn't talked about his early love life so for all we know this song is fiction, the fact that he returned to the theme so many times and invested so much emotional interest in these songs suggests that there's something 'real' at work here. The result is one of those that really shouldn't work on paper: the chorus is repeated so many times, the verse doesn't necessarily fit together and the instrumental in the middle should test the listener's patience (at least it does when the band use the same idea elsewhere - next album 'Keys To The Kingdom' are full of little bits like that one that fall really flat). Curiously on an album dominated by 'thinking about the demographic', full of songs that sound as if they only exist to be released as singles, it's the most wayward Hayward song of the bunch that got picked instead. But it's clearly the right decision and for one glorious moment none of that matters: Hayward's lyrics, vocal and melody are all first-rate, full of an emotional investment we haven't heard in a decade or more and for once the rest if the band are right with him, pulling together to create one of the last true Moody Blue masterpieces. Even the eighties trappings work: this is a pop song, first and foremost, driven by hope and longing and confidence, though no less substantial for that because Hayward also makes it clear just how 'serious' he is about the search. The narrator never does find his soulmate again (or at least in song - he does in the band's best ever video that accompanied the single) but this time you're sure that the story has a happy ending: how can all that energy, drive and love fail? The result, even more than 'Your Wildest Dreams' is a triumph of feeling over sense and of timeless inspiration escaping the worst trappings of the era. The only downside is that after two successes from the same cloth the band never tried the template a third time, although we fans are still hopeful for an ending to that trilogy of lost love (we know you're out there somewhere...')

Against all the odds the seconds song on the album is rather glorious too. 'Want To Be With You' is a Hayward-Lodge collaboration that sounds from the vocal range as if Hayward wrote the slow plodding melancholy verses which again sits well outside his vocal comfort range and Lodge the up-tempo power chorus. While apart neither sounds that impressive, putting the two together was a masterstroke: a record that get's it cake and eats it, giving us both all the explanations for why a relationship should never be and then pleading for it anyway. Many 1980s Moodies recordings sound cold and distant, a long journey from perhaps the most emotionally warm records of anybody's, but they put that too good use here, with a song that in a n 'I'm Not In Love' way tries hard to be detached and unmoved but inwardly is a bag of nerves. Lyrically this is strong stuff for the period, the narrator reflecting on how the 'world is such a lonely place' and going so deep melodically you have fear he's not going to come back up again (by contrast the chorus of longing has him shouting from the roof-tops). By the second and last verse though (if this song has a fault it's that the track is over so fast for all its five minutes - another verse of back-story could have made all the difference) the narrator is ready to begin again, that his doubt and worry about chances not taken don't matter as long as he gets the next turning point in his life right. Impressively different to anything else the band have written, this is far more mature than anything on 'The Other Side Of Life' and once again sounds 'real' in a way that few of these other album songs do. For once Moraz is right on the ball here, teasing Hayward with snatches of colour and beauty with some faintly heard synths and letting his wailing distant guitar part take the strain before exploding in a cacophony of melody and brilliance (it's unforgivable that Moraz plays the 'flute part' on a synth instead of calling up Thomas to do it however!) Hearing these two songs together might have just convinced you that the band are as great as they've ever been - but alas 'Sur La Mer' takes a downward plunge hereafter...

'River Of Endless Love' sounds like an outtake from 'The Other Side Of Life'. The synths are used for pure noise rather than to drive the song along, Hayward and Lodge sound like aliens in their own song - the only 'real' sound here (this must be one of the only Moodies recordings in their history not to feature a guitar part somewhere bar a barely-heard acoustic part now and again) and the recording's lame attempts to 'rock out' with a plodding artificial drum sound are pitiable. Lyrically too this is rubbish by Moodies standards - we get the same old 'looking for a better world' speech that sounds as if it's taken verbatim from 'Lost In A Lost World' and all sorts of unsuitable metaphors that sound plucked at random ('I'm living in the hands of time, on the wings of love, at the edge of night'). That godawful sax part too on one of the most eighties recordings in history (uncredited, so it's probably Moraz again, though it does sound like a 'proper' instrument rather than a digital one) makes you want to scratchg your ears out right then and there. The difference between this and the 'real' emotion of the last two songs isn't just a gap anymore, it's a chasm. And yet even this song is superior to many from 'Other Side' by virtue of an exceptional middle eight that comes along just at the point where you're ready to admit defeat and give up. The melody has been straining to resolve itself downwards since the song started and the descending chords of the chorus are about as ordinary as they come, heard in every song since the beginning of time (or at least since The Spice Girls were young - that's a long time!) But the middle eight instead moves things upwards and the musicians stop whacking us over the head and play cat-and-mouse with our feelings as Justin and John (this is another lesser joint song) start singing about ambiguities; of a 'calm before the storm' where 'shadows lose their form'. Throughout the song the narrator has sounded more sure of himself than David Cameron when he's onto something evil and damning against the poor: till now we've never doubted that his 'river of endless love' is unstoppable and that he and his missus are going to fade away into the sunset the picture of happiness. However this part of the song, set late at night when he's less confident, adds a real air of poignancy to this track: what the hell is he going to do with all that love if he can't give it away to someone else? Is thirty seconds enough to save a whole song? Well, not quite sadly, but it at least makes this filler song more palatable than some other Moodies songs on the same levels, crashing squealing synthesisers and all.

'No More Lies' is a rare case of the eighties pop trappings warping a perfectly respectable song beyond all good measure. While the lyrics about trust are no great shakes, this is one of Hayward's better melodies, bright and cheerfully and driven by a guitar riff that manages to both roar and add a touch of warmth. You can easily imagine this song appearing on a mid-70s best-of in some parallel universe. The fact that Hayward not only sings but plays double-tracked, each part virtually identical but ever so slightly out of synch with the other is clever too, as if mirroring the couple who are so compatible in every way except one minor secret that niggles the narrator so. But what the hell is going on with the recording? Hayward's vocals are further down in the mix than not only the guitar and the synths as usual but also some of the most horrid random drumming on any Moodies recording, sounding not unlike the noise clothes with zips make when going round and round in a tumble-dryer ('Sur La Mer Avec Un Soapsuds'). Even more than normal this song ends up sounding artificial and false, made all the worse by the fact that this is such an open and honest sounding song, the narrator trying so hard to appreciate all the great things in their relationship but the melody naturally leading him back to those doubts over and over again, niggling away at him. I don't think we've ever heard Hayward paint a portrayal of love that was anything less than happy before and whilst this song is keen to point out that this is just a minor sticking point, it's fascinating to hear a different take on things - like finding out that Little Red Riding Hood's Granny was being hit by the bedroom tax or that the beanstalk grew thanks to manmade weedkiller. More songs like this would have been welcome, but there's something ugly about the way it's realised here, as if all that emotion counts for nothing against the sharp edges and mundanity of the backing. Perhaps they should have called this song 'No More Synths'.

'Here Comes The Weekend' doesn't even have the redeeming features of the past two songs and is perhaps the biggest travesty on the album. With a power-hook that's ripped wholesale from 'The Phantom Of The Opera' (a big hit in 1988, before the world found out which classical composer Andrew Lloyd-Webber had ripped off this time) and a scary movie style-riff 'didlleiddlewhooo...bamBam BAm BAMBamBAM!!!) it's apparent from the opening bars that this going to be one of those silly songs about a weekend of rest that's really damning the hopelessness of the week. The trouble with most of these style songs including this one is that there's nowhere to go; once the audience has yelled 'hell yeah!' the song ends up being a list of what you can do then you can't do elsewhere. We know all that and what's more the list of things to enjoy at the weekend is arguably less relevant for a rock musician like Lodge (who plays weekend gigs more often than weekday ones) than most people. This song feels as if we're being used 'somehow', as if the band have got the commercial pound signs in their eyes and reckon they can write any song designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator, smother it in contemporary synths and we'll bite. If this was a new band designed to work in this very 80s climate then I might be prepared to give it more slack - but this is The Moody Blues, the band who turned expressions of the soul into best-selling pop songs and where no subject matter was too big or too dense for public consumption. Do they really think that 'yippee it's the weekend!' is a proper substitute for the aching agony of 'Nights In White Satin' or the doubts and fears of 'Question'? Just check out those lyrics: 'It's FRriday night, it's alright it's alright...'I'm all wired up, and I'm on my way, it's the weekend and it's starting today'. We don't learn anything here and all this song proves is that the narrator knows what day it is every Friday - well whoopedoowahhey! Another horrid sax solo that only gets close to being in tune on one note the whole song is potentially the most off-putting loathsome minute in the Moodies' entire canon. That said there is one clever moment here, where the whole noisy repertoire of Moraz dies away to reveal a relentless driving acoustic guitar riff bubbling along, as if below all the surface shenanigans and 'cutting loose' the narrator is keeping his own time-clock to when he has to hunker down and go back to work. Once again, while the song itself is if anything more questionable than even the lowest songs on 'The Other Side Of Life', the arrangement is at least showing signs of somebody thinking these things through and saves this recording from being a complete 100% disaster.

Onto side two and things are looking up for 'Vintage Wine', a nicely retro song that's arguably the first since as long ago as 'Octave' that comes without any desire to sound young and trendy. Though simpler than the classics of old and not really saying much other than 'gee the sixties - wasn't it great?', The Moodies sound an awful lot more likeable like this, with a proper band playing (that even sounds like Edge on the simple drum pattern) and the main part of the song given over to the nicely strummed guitars rather than Moraz' mayhem and madness. At odds with the past ten years of trying to sound young, here Hayward connects to when he genuinely did feel young, his years of being worldly wise and putting things right (as Dylan would say, 'I was so much older then...') telling us 'I want to be back there when the music plays and the lights go up on the empty stage'. Celebrating all his band once stood for, from an era that despite being just twenty years old must have seemed a lot longer during the peak excesses of the 1980s, Hayward compares the period to 'vintage wine', maturing nicely the older they get and as the nastiness of the world in the present turns people to look from the past. This could have easily become a 'then and now' song, full of snappy in-my-days-this-was-all-fields middle aged grumpiness, but Hayward is content to call back to all his old friends and fans who once in invested such time and energy into this band and admitting that for all the band's attempts to stay fresh and relevent, like us 'not a day doesn't go by when I don't think of them' (those years). I'm less sure about the 'a-o-oh, a-o-oh, ah-o-wo-a-oh-a-oh' chorus (which sounds like someone being sick) but there's full marks for another classic middle eight which again turns the song on it's head and like many songs with middle eights proves it's composer was at least thinking about how to offer something extra ('And if you're into wandering...') that suddenly turns all this nice laidback nostalgia into something more gripping. Though a little naive by his own best standards and quickly running out of steam, 'Vintage Wine' is one of the few songs on 'Sur La Mer' that doesn't 'bottle' it in the recording and the result is a song that can hold it's own with the best of them. If only Hayward had listened to his own advice and turned the clock back for good...

That said, we'd have then been without the third really decent song on the album 'Breaking Point', the only song of The Moodies that sounds all the better for rather than in spite of the period trappings. A Hayward-Lodge song best described as 'epic', it's a song of two halves, starting with an oppressive swirling mass of keyboards, sound effects and what sounds like a dinner timer pinging in the distance before finally becoming a full-blown 'scary' song a full two minutes in. Lodge starts the song and is at his best here, channelling the song's amateur dramatics ('Is that the wind on your face?') and the very image of still, a narrator so crushed by the weight of modern day living that he's no longer sure of anything but his own quiet space. The second half, introduced by a powerful clatter of drums (real thank goodness, though it's back to artificial for the song proper!) is sung by Hayward and is a surging power-pop song about how only sleeping brings respite and that 'though you want to sleep forever still you must return...' Moraz throws the works at this song, with an impressive array of textures and layers that really do sound as if the narrator is slowly being choked by everything he's trying to hold at bay. The vocals too are excellent, both the leads and the other-worldly Justin 'n' John harmonies that approach old glories (though Edge and Thomas are still sorely missed). There's a clever twist at the end of the song too that hints that this is a continuation of 'I Know You're Out There Somewhere' with the narrator having failed in his attempt to rekindle an old love ('Is that your voice I hear? Or the wind that's calling back across the years?) The Moodies don't often do scary, even though they're love of unusual noises means they've always been in the perfect position to do so and this is easily their best use of 1980s gadgets to conjure up a scenario that would have been chillingly powerful at the time (and still sounds rather good now). The most ambitious Moodies song since 'My Song' way back in 1971, this is the Moodies going back to writing sounds rather than songs, offering something that no other band could do. Of course it's not without faults: the main surging synth riff is horribly over-80s, the song goes on a minute too long and while aesthetically 'right' ducking Lodge and Hayward so low in the mix again is a pain for fans struggling to hear it all. But 'Breaking Point' gets a lot more things right than it gets wrong and finally tries to do something new and deeper than average. Another of the last great Moodies classics.

'Miracle' isn't bad either, another Hayward-Lodge collaboration based around a thrilling walking bass riff and some spiky guitar work. Recalling the theme of 'The Other Side Of Life', this song has the narrator 'closing the door and walking away from a life that I knew' and later 'leaving this city on a wave of despair'. Recalling 'April Comes She Will', the narrator relates events happening in June, July, August and September but the difference is that nothing happens - well nothing worth mentioning anyway. For all the narrator's vows about changing his life around and starting again fresh he finds nothing new to add to his fading world, no extra excitement and certainly none of the miracles he's after. Hayward chimes in with a stunning guitar solo, by far the most 'contemporary' sound he's come up with (fierce, loud, unrelenting) though still un-mistakenly him, pointing at all that longing going to waste. Hayward and Lodge sound good here, vainly trying to keep in touch with each other across a noticeably wide stereo pan that sees Justin on the far left and John on the far right, separated by a bank of Moraz noise and artificial drums in the middle. Alas all that good simply doesn't get anywhere - the narrator's frustration comes over loud and clear and it's probably apt that he simply repeats himself over and over throughout the song's second half. But the song sounds like it's being built for some big showdown, some major revelation that's going to put things right again - or not (the narrator should by rights be longing for his old life again, finding his patience paying off at last or discovering that his new and old lives are the same because he can't 'escape' himself - any of the three scenarios would have worked, but instead this song simply gives up and ends with the narrator still lost but still looking). Instead the song simply fades, failing to act on all that promise. What a swizz! Still yo8u have to say things are looking up on this album's second half...

Only to be brought right back down to earth again with 'Love Is On The Run', one of those anonymous Lodge ballads that has no real melody, not much of a lyric and yet still lasts for an agonisingly uneventful five minutes. Justin's soaring guitar, much more his traditional style than on most songs on the album, tries hard to add some warmth but with another bank of synths and a doom-doom-doom-thwack drum-keyboard part that's everything I hate about the period in one godawful rhythm, it's not enough. Once again this song returns to the feeling of 'lost loves', the narrator clumsily deciding that just because he's unhappy doesn't mean his lost soulmate isn't and deciding that his heart is 'on the run' (isn't that a medical condition?) 'You'll be the last to know when love has gone' he tells himself, many many times over, but so what? We don't get any real sense as per the glorious Blue Jays song 'Who Are You Now?' that this matters and the narrator's own reasons for moving on seem good enough for him to stop lingering and moaning about it all. It's the chorus that really palls though: da-da-da-da on one note, da-da-da-da-da on a note one tone lower and thewn back up to the starting point for another da-da-da-da-da. That's the sort of pattern going on in 'Twinkle Twinkle Little Star', traditionally the starting point for most people learning to play a musical instrument in Britain. This is - allegedly - a deep song about falling out of love and debating whether you were right to say goodbye to a person from your past and other songs on this album have pointed to how deep and powerful that sort of a song can be. But with the title line repeated a grand total of twelve times across this song (once every 25 seconds or so) there's simply no space for any grand revelation or any sense that this song is about a 'true' feeling at all. Poorly written, badly performed and horribly over-produced, this is the problems of the Moodies in this period in a nutshell.

Thankfully Hayward's 'Deep' restores some sense of ambition to proceedings with another deeply unusual soundscape that's structured quite unlike any of his other songs. Returning again to his period love of unusually deep vocal lines, Hayward himself sings 'deep' on a song about seeking out the truth behind and the daily surface of life. More than one fans has heard a sexual double entendre at work here - that would seem unlikely given the Moodies' gentlemanly image and the lyrics don't really support that, but do note how often this track climaxes and then pulls away, only to build up all over again and the audible smirk on Hayward's voice as he sings sometimes. Elsewhere there's a curious instrumental middle where Moraz's keyboards come into paint a convincing portrayal of a barren landscape, full of ice and wind punctuated only by Hayward's guitar howls and another chilling guitar solo that tries to wrestle this way and that past the song's relentless confining riff but never does quite find a way past it. Had the earlier Moodies come up with this song there's no doubt they'd have done this sort of thing better: the keyboards still sound too shallow, too trite to belong in a world of such powerful emotions and the use of what sounds like a fire alarm in the background is a case of too many toys to play with and not enough respect for the music. Hayward too sounds distinctly uncomfortable on occasion, as if he still hasn't quite got his mind around what his sub-conscience has come up with yet (together with the deep growl of the vocal line, the one-word title and it's place at the album, was this song originally intended for Thomas to sing? If so then you could see why he'd refuse - the song is a mile away from his traditional whimsy-with-real-feeling songs, although you can also see why the rest of the band thought it would appeal for his deeper, growlier voice and tongue-in-cheekness only Ray could have pulled off). The result is a song that doesn't quite make it, being a journey just that too far out of reach of everyone's comfort zones, but at least this song is grasping for the stars and trying to unite the best of the soul-searching ambitions of the past with the pop-fodder of the present and after sitting through the barren album that was 'The Other Side Of Life' I'll settle for that any day.

The result, then, is an album that is still a long way away from where the Moodies used to be and what they represented, but is at least trying to get back there. 'Sur La Mer' is still a bit of a wet blanket, full of all-too-desperate attempts to sound young and fresh, but the band aren't merely sinking in these new waters - they've found a way to make it work with them too. As we said on our review for 'The Other Side Of Life' the band had to make a record like that one, fully dressed up in then-modern clothing rather than simply trying on a few new hats and sounding the same if they wanted to win over enough of a new audience to keep their sales going. It was a sink or swim time and the jury's still out on what that album was (to new fans it was a triumph - to old fans who remembered that the band could do it was a disaster) but at least it got people talking about the Moodies again. This album sounds all too often as if it's designed to continue the conversation on and nothing else and Moraz' synths are if anything even more irritating, simply because there's more of them. However 'Sur La Mer' is a much more impressive album all round, falling on its face only when the band try too hard not to try doing anything at all (with two of the lamest pop songs you'll ever hear) and actually taking quite a few leaps ahead on the other, more daring songs. Listening to this album now is a much more frustrating experience than it was then thanks to the dated technology and ultimately the price to sound good in 1986 may have been too high, relegating the band even more a bunch of has-beens when the next album comes along in 1991 than they might have been. But for a second here you can understand just why the Moodies were so adamant about throwing caution to the wind and updating their old sound to new technology, even though it cost them half the band and ultimately their chance of returning to relevance the way that more cautious sixties bands forgotten in the eighties were reclaimed in the nineties. At times 'Sur La Mer' is a genuinely impressive album and everything you'd hope the old Moodies would go on to be. It's just a shame there isn't more of that across the whole record and that some of the mistakes are quite as clumsy as they are. Alas things are get clumsier still on their next album, their last for nearly a full decade...

Other Moodies related articles from this site you might be interested in reading:

'The Magnificent Moodies'

'In Search Of The Lost Chord' (1968)

'On The Threshold Of A Dream' (1969)

'To Our Children's Children's Children' (1969)

‘A Question Of Balance’ (1970)

'Every Good Boy Deserves Favour' (1971)

'Seventh Sojourn' (1972)

'Blue Jays' (Hayward/Lodge) (1976)

'Songwriter' (Hayward) (1977)

'Long Distance Voyager' (1981)

'The Present' (1983)

'The Other Side Of This Life' (1986)


The Byrds: Solo/Live/Compilation Albums Part Four of Four (Phew!) 1992-2013

You can buy 'All The Things - The Alan's Album Archives Guide To The Music Of The Byrds' By Clicking here!

Gene Clark and Carla Olsen "Silhouetted In Light"
(Demon,  February 1992)
Your Fire Burning/Number One Is To Survive/Love Wins Again/Fair and Tender Ladies/Photograph/Set You Free This Time/Last Thing On My MInd/Gypsy Rider/Train Leaves Here This Morning/Almost Saturday Night/Del Gato/I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better/She Don't Care About Time/Speed Of The Sound Of Loneliness/Will The Circle Be Unbroken?
CD Bonus Track: Here Without You
"i've never been so far out in front that I could ask for what I want and have it any time"
Usually when an artist of the calibre of Gene Clark dies, the industry becomes awash with products bearing their name. However the sudden-ness of Gene's sad death in May 1991, the relatively small following Gene still had left and the difficulties of navigating a back catalogue split across six seperate record labels meant that most of the tributes to Gene took a few years to trickle in. This is the first and against all the odds and nerves and the cancelled tours down the years, it's a lie album, recorded less than a year before Gene's passing. At the time (February 1990) Gene and Carla had just teamed up together to belatedly re-promote 1987's 'So Rebellious A Lover' and warm up for a second duets album that sadly never happaned. The set list is pretty neatly split betwen the two projects and while the 'Rebellious' material is a little rough (this gig was nerver intended for professional release after all), the chance to hear both the pair new songs and to hear them sing on each other's 'standard' live repertoire is fascinating. The set has clearly been put together with a lot of love and care - the title is a nice Gene-style image, based around his career-long obsession with 'white light' as spiritual inspiration - and is nicely long, especially the CD re-issue in 1997 which adds the delightfil Byrd cover 'Here Without You' as a bonus track (where Carla's vocals sound especially 'right' somehow).  You can tell that the pair are getting on well, too, although sadly the pair's famously pithy banter is cut from this set to get igt to fit to a standard CD running time.
The highlights are a trio of songs taken from that second album that never was: 'Your Fire Burning' finds Gene extending his 'sunlight' metaphor to fire and flames set against a beautiful tune that's simple yet hypnotically powerful like all the best Clark songs; 'Love Wins Again' is another powerful song of guilt and loss clearly inspired by Terri Messina as yet another reunion goes wrong because of his self-destruction (there's rarely been a more powerful Gene Clark line than this song's 'I think I know how you were feeling - your sweet broken heart was on the mend'); finally the nostalgic 'Photograph' is like a summary of all of Gene's styles to date, a song of loss that wonders whether a pair of soulmates will meet again 'or was that last kiss a goodbye?' All three are powerful songs that would have made a fine backbone for a next album and while the singing is often questionable and the band unrehearsed even here it's powerfull stuff to listen to, intense in true Clark fashion. Elsewhere there's a spirited 'Train Leaves Here This Morning' where Carla sounds rather good on harmonies, a ragged but righteous 'Set You Free This Time' and a stunning 'Del Gato' from the 'Rebellious' album. However the highlight of the whole set might well be Carla's own song 'Number One Is To Survive' from her days with country band 'The Textones', with Gene providing some lovely harmonies on a song that must have rung a chord with his own troubled life and cycles of highs and lows: ''What had started out as fun has now become a loaded gun'.
Yes Gene stumbles a bit and is clearly not well (the 'Timeless Flight Revisted' biography reveals a whole load of ailments that were never made public, including an extremely painful operation where most of Gene's stomach had to be removed), with 'Silverado' a much more convincing (if poorer recorded) Gene Clark live album with the tambourine man on top optomistic form. However there's a certain magic in the air that supercedes the occasional bum note and screeched harmony and I don't think that's just for historical reasons, with this close to being Gene's last ever gig. Clark and Olsen had a special connection from the first and you can hear that much more here, on stage, where they're singing fully together (mpst of the 'Rebellious' record was made apart), two fighters with difficult backgrounds searching for their way back to happiness. The chemistry is palpable and even songs Gene had sung hundreds of times have a special quality to them here, as old age and illness gives extra resonance to songs about parting and sorrow. If you're new to Gene's work then this album isn't really the place to start: Clark is having a tough year and sounds a lot older than his 45 years (astonishingly his age at the time). But if you've gone through the bumps in the road, the troughs and lows and the occasional rollercoaster high with him, then you need to hear this moving last stop in the journey, when things are plainly hard but with the promise of new songs, a new collaboration and a new chance starting one last time. That white light might not be shinging as strong as it used to, but it's shining all the same with two talented performers caught up in the golden glow of inspiration once more. 
The Desert Rose Band (Featuring Chris Hillman) "Life Goes On"
 (Curb,  August 1993)
What About Love?/Night After Night/Walk On By/Love's Refugees/Life Goes On/That's Not The Way/Till It's Over/Hold On/A Little Rain/Throw Me A Lifeline
"I'll carry the torch if you light the way"
The demise of The Desert Rose Band just six years into their tenure would have seemed unthinkable even a couple of years earlier when the band were at the top of the charts. But fashions, especially musical ones, change quickly and by 1993 traditional country with a bit of rock by some old-timers was very much against the grain of the big names of the day: grunge, heavy metal and the first stirrings of Britpop. MCA didn't like 'True Love' and hated the poor sales even less and promptly dropped the band. This understandably had a major impact on the group's internal structure and saw both John Jorgdenson and Stephen Duncan leave the band. For now though The Desert Rose Band struggled on as a three-piece (Hillman, Pedersen and bassist Tom Brumley), with Jorgenseon 'guesting' on a couple of tracks and session men hired to fill in for the rest. Hillman thought long and hard about going solo but felt that he wanted the band to go out on a better album than 'True Love' and tried evertything he could to make this record more like the first three, even going back to work with the producers of the first record Paul Worley and Ed Seay. Even so Curb decided to release this record only for the band's biggest market in Europe and this album is still among the rarest Byrds-related records to find in America (it's not exactly common anywhere!) The Desert Rose Band soldiered on into 1994 but, realising it was a tour of vegas cabaret spots or nothing, decided to split for good on March 1st 1994. It had been a short journey, but a rewarding one, increasing Hillman's reputation in the business and proving that there was a market for the bluegrass music he loved.
In truth 'Life Goes On' isn't really much of an improvement on 'True Love', with a similar mix of inspiration and perspiration. Final single 'What About Love?' is about the best thing here, with Hillman singing a bluesy and rather Dire Straitsy lead against some fiddle playing and is one of the catchiest songs in the Desert Rose Band canon. 'Walk On By' is excellent, Hillman returning to folk and one of his favourite themes, a long walk as a metphor for how lost and lonely he's feeling, with a few lyrical references to 'Hard Times' thrown in for free, sarcastically complaining of those who pass before him 'why don't any of you lend a hand?'  'Love's Refugees' is a clever song too, Gram Parsons-like in its depiction of two lovers, formerly all over each other, who 'don't know how to talk to each other' with a pedal steel part that sounds like sobbing. Herb Pedersen's gentle folk lament 'Hold On' is pretty good too, with a gentler softer side more like the first two Desert Rose records and the laidback style suits the band nicely. Most everything else however - especially the second half of the record - is distinctly undercooked, either recycling old ideas or simply falling into country cliche. Still, this album deserves better than to have been ignored the way it has and is long verdue a proper re-issue and I for one rather like the folkier edges of this record which sees the band move away that little bit from their traditional bluegrass and pure country. The Desert Rose Band deserved a bmore fitting ending after defying the assumptions of so many for so long that a band with this style just couldn't make it. In decades to come, when Chris Hillman's contributions to musixc are properly assessed, I'm confident that The Desert Rose Band will remain a crucial fourth cornerstone of his legacy, along with his better known recordings with The Byrds, Flying Burrito Brothers and Manassas. That's quite a legacy for any one man to have and while all five albums are mixed in some way this band were clearly closer to the rose than the desert, full of bloom beauty and invention more than empty barren wildernesses. They're a special band that continue to be missed.
"To play on
Chris Hillman and Herb Pedersen "Bakersfield Bound"
 (Sugar Hill, May 1996)
Playboy/Which One Is To Blame?/Close Up The Honky Tonks/Brand New Heartache/Congratulations Anyway/It's Not Love (But It's Not Bad)/He Don't Deserve You Anymore/There Goes My LOve/My Baby's Gone/The Lost Highway/Time Goes So Slow/Just Tell Me Darlin'/Bakersfield Bound
"I'm a rollin' stone and all lost and alone...just another guy on the lost highway"
Some three years after the demise of the Desert Rose Band, bandmates Chris Hillman and Herb Pedersen got back together again for what was effectively the sixth Desert Rose Band. Jay Dee Maness also guests on this album, his first since the Desert Rose Band's early days. The results though are once again mixed: the return to a much more back to basics country/bluegrass blend is a good idea, Chris and Herb's decision to sing harmonies throughout - Everly Brothers style - is a good one and the two original songs are more than up to standard. 'Just Tell Me Darlin' is a traditional sounding country weepie with a good beat and Hillman writing about how hard it is to re-group after another band a record contract bites the dust, 'putting my heart on the table one more time' because he can't bear the thought of 'walking away a loser'. The closing title track, meanwhile, is more Hillman autobiography, remembering a childhood 'scratching out a living in the dirt and clay' and 'the wind whistling under the door', the dream of moving to a new, richer town filling him with hope that one day things would be better. However there's a smaller, slighter backing across the record this time (making the band sound not unlike the early Johnny Cash records with the Tennessee Two and the same 'boom-chicka' sound throughout), there's a tinny rather dismissive production and there's way too many cover songs (eleven!), all of them obvious from Buck Owens to Gram Parsons cover favourite 'Close Up The Honky Tonks', none of them really adding much. Robert Charlebois' 'Which One Is To Blame?' is a nice cover song in a Flying Burritos way, though and Leon Payne's 'The Highway' suits the pair of vocalists very well. All in all one of Hillman's lesser ideas, with two-thirds of this record near unlistenable, although it's not without merit, saved by the two strong songs at the end and a couple in the middle.

Roger McGuinn "Live From Mars"
(Hollywood,  November 1996)
Heartbreak Hotel/Daddy Roll 'Em/Gate Of Horn/Chestnut Mare/The Bells Of Rhymney/Turn! Turn! Turn!/Beach Ball/Wild Mountain Thyme/You Showed Me/Mr Tambourine Man/Mr Spaceman/Eight Miles High/So You Want To Be A Rock and Roll Star?/King Of The Hill/May The Road Rise/Fireworks
"A white blinding light makes it all feel so right, and you feel like the king of the hill"
Well, who'd have thought it? Roger's decision to tour his 'Back From Rio' album as a solo acoustic wandering minstrel interrupting songs to give us nuggets about his life story is one of the single greatest things McGuinn has ever done. Despite hating the acoustic tours Crosby first suggested he go on back in 1974, Roger returned to the live arena by himself, without any other musicians in tow. The result is an excellent sideways look at his career with The Byrds and solo, with a few additional favourites that got Roger interested in music (like Elvis' 'Heartbreak Hotel'), some surprise obscure Byrds numbers (Gene Clark's 1964 track 'You Showed Me') and two then-new songs exclusive to this set: 'May The Road Rise' and 'Fireworks' (sadly both about the weakest thing here, but hey - two more McGuinn songs with just one album interrupting a fifteen year silence: count me in!) The tour was very much influenced by Kink Ray Davies, who'd used the same formula when plugging his deeply weird but very fascinating 'unauthorised autobiography' (!), reading out nuggets tfrom the book before launching into a song from any particular era. Roger has no book to plug (a shame: he'd have a fascinating story to tell!) but is in fine nostalgic mood across this set, with nuggets about the decision to record 'Mr Tambourine Man' and arranging 'Turn! Turn! Turn!' One of Roger's greatest gifts has always been his ability to tell a 'story' - his attempts to do his 'Gene Tryp' musical on stage, even when restricted to simply a reading of the plot, are always fascinatin and that's kind of how Roger treats his own life story here: as if it happened to a 'fictional person' (you half expect Roger to go 'and then after Crosby left the band I leapt on a wild stallion and rode off into the sunset to become a politician!') As for the performances, Roger is a great acoustic player and while some of the songs here sound a little dry and empty without the backing (you badky miss the other Byrds on 'Turn!' for instance), others have never sounded better ('Mr Spaceman' goes from being irritating pop novelty to reflective plea for escape in one fell swoop!) The highlight, though, is a stunning 'Eight Miles High' on which Roger manages to create an acoustic solo backing almost as intense and psychedelic as the real thing. Arguably the best single purchase McGuinn album out there (along with his debut record, perhaps), the wittiyl titled 'Live From Mars' is actually the opposite of what it's alientaing title suggests: instead of being further away from us than even 'Rio', Roger has never been closer, with an informal intimate in-your-living -room feel about this album that's delightful and moving.

Rice, Rice, Hillman and Pedersen "Out Of The Woodwork"
 (Rounder, January 1997)
Hard Times/Lord Won't You Help Me?/Somewhere On The Road Tonight/No One Else/Streetcorner Stranger/So Begins The Task/Dimming Of The Day/Just Me and You/Do Right Woman/Change Coming Down/Story Of Love/Only Passing Through
"The dreams we hold together are worth saving"
Having seen the end of his fourth band, Hillman found himself part of a looser conglomerate of bluegrass musicians as he and Herb Pedersen joined forces with the Rice brothers Tony and Larry for a looser quartet more akin to CSNY (although they jokingly biled themselves as an 'anti-supergroup' at the time). With four accomplished guitarists who also covered mandolin, banjo and bass between them, the musicianship on this album and it's sequel are clearly sky-high, sounding at times like four Clarence Whites playing at once at top speed. The general mood is more low-key, though and it's nice to hear Hillman in fully acoustic surroundings for a change where he sounds even more at home than with the Desert Rose Band. Clearly, as bluegrass albums go, this is somewhere near the upper end of that range with the quartet working well together and sounding as if they've been playing as a team since birth. Bravely there's no percussion anywhere across this album and barely any bass (what there is is played by Hillman himself for a change), leaving this very much an 'unplugged' album short on power but high on subtlety, a fact which suits Hillman for one just fine. Clearly there's a lot of talent in this band and if anyone can turn you onto bluegrass then it's these four.However, there's a case to be made that RRHP don't always make the most of their talents. As with the sequel, all four men often sound too similar to each other for the colaboration to work as well as it might. All four have voices that sound quite close and writing styles that areinterchangable, with Hillman's older deeper voice making him sound more like Pedersen than ever. None of the four are natural singers (not here anyway, though Hillman often sounded great in his younger days) and the vocals are the weakest part of the set.
The songs too are something of a mixed bag, with no less than four repeats across the album from the various members' past careers (including three Hillman had already played on). Luckily for us Byrds fans, Hillman rather takes the reigns here, writing five of the twelve songs for the album although for perhaps the first time in his career they aren't among the best. 'Hard Times', sung by three of the four in turn, isn't a repeat of Hillman's Souther-Hillman-Furay song sadly but a more anonymous piueces about wanting to be 'free'. It's at one with that earlier song, though, being another reflection about a sudden fall from grace - this time with the Desert Rose Band - although the mood is rather more optomistic. 'Somewhere On The Road Tonight' is a very Gram Parsons-style Hillman ballad about being out on the road and 'dreaming abhout home', with guest Jerry Douglas playing some nice dobro although the song itself is rather anonymous. 'No One Else', a collaboration with Pedersen and shared between the two writers, is better - a chirpy Manassas style number about a sudden night of empotional outpouring between a couple who rarely speak to each other. This piece is easily Hillman's highlight on the album and a real return of his and Herb's lyrical gifts after a couple of lesser Desert Rose albums. The fast and furious 'Change Coming Down' is another Hillman my-woman's-gone song that reflects the bottom end of his 'Rise and Fall' metaphor about life and sounds almost histtionic compared to the other laidback songs on the CD. Finally, 'Story Of Love' is a surpise acoustic re-make of the opening song from the Desert Rose Band album 'The Pages Of Life', which while a good song sounds rather out of place here and doesn't work as well without the power of a band behind it.
The best songs on this set, unusually for Hillman, tend to be the cover material.'Do Right Woman' is of course well known as  Flying Burrito Brothers number from 'The Gilded Palace Of Sin', a Moman and Penn country standard that Parsons sang with aplomb back in 1969. Hillman sounds less sure of the track and his role in it but this slowed down, gentler version is still one of the highlights on the album allowing all four musicians space to weave their magic. Even better is 'So Begins The Task', one of the greatest of Stephen Stills songs around and arguably the best song Hillman played while in Manassas. This re-make is rather rushed, losing the mystery and emotion of the original but you'd have to go a long way to ruin a classic like this and it rather suits the new boom-chicka bluegrass bounce. However the true album highlight is Richard and Linda Thompson's gorgeous 'Dimming Of The Day', a song that could have been written by Hillman with it's tale of a decrpeid broken down house a metaphor for the fading love of the couple who live inside it. The Thompsons' most covered song (even Pink Floyd's David Gilmour did a version in concert), most versions tend to over-dramatise the piece but Larry Rice's serious vocals are among the best, hitning at the emotion lurking in the song without wallowing in it. In total these three cover songs are an excellent backbone to an LP that shows off what a great sound four masters of the art can bring to bluegrass which is sure to be an album for treasure for many fans of the genre. The trouble is the material and the fact that, at 37 minutes, the quartet really sell themselves short.

Gene Clark "The Best Of: American Dreamer 1964-74"
(Raven,  February 1997)
I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better/Set You Free This Time/She Don't Care About Time/Echoes/So You Say You Lost Your Baby/Radio Song/With Care From Someone/Out On The Side/Train Leaves Here This Morning/Something's Wrong/Through The Morning, Through The Night/She's The Kind Of Girl/One In A Hundred/Here Tonight/The Virgin/With Tomorrow/White Light/Spanish Guitar/American Dreamer/Outlaw Song/Full Circle/From A Silver Phial/Silver Raven/Full Circle Song
"A lonely soul, a great extremer, but none the less an American dreamer"
With Gene Clark's many albums so hard to get, you might be tempted to think about buying a best-of. Usually that would be a good idea, but the problem with gene is that his work is pread out over a whole range of record labels who don't always license his work out to the others and so tend to concentrate on one aspect of his life rather than a full career overview. The sad fact is as well that even Gene's compilations are hard toi find, without the heavy promotion or commercial clout of The Byrds as a whole. There are however two excellent compilations out there that do a good job, both of them curiously released a year apart from each other. The 1998 set 'Flying High' is certainly the one you want to get if you can - it's a double disc set, covers far more years (though still out of ncessity skimps on the beginning and end of Gene's life) and generally gets the track listing spoit-on. However if it's Gene's 'glory years' you want to hear and you can't get hold of the first two solo albums plus 'outtakes set 'Roadmaster' and the Gosdin Brothers and Doug Dillard colaborations then 'American Dreamer' is still an excellent purchase.
This set too is rather low on Byrds releases at just three songs, but at least they're all strong choices to start the set with. Elsewhere there are the two best songs from the 'Gosdin Brothers' album, an impressive five from 'The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard and Clark' (all good choices), a mere one from sequel 'Through The Morning, Through The Night' (and it's the lesser title track - I'd have preferred 'Polly'), four songs from 'Roadmaster' including the two Byrds reunion songs and the Flying Burritos collaboration, four from 'White Light' including that album's classic 'For A Spanish Guitar', 'Full Circle' from the Byrds reunion album (alongside the solo'Roadmaster' edition) and a mere two from 'No Other' which seems a bit of a surprise (publishing issues?) although thankfully 'From A Silver Phial' and 'Silver Raven' are the two I'd have chosen too. There are no technically unreleased traxcks here for collectors, but I'm willing to bet few of you have the rarest tracks on this set - 'Outlaw Song' and 'American Dreamer' itself, both written for an obscure 1971 Dennis Hopper film actually named 'American Dreamer' although given that this is Gene Clark we're talking about here nothing's simple and both tracks were rejected only to be resurrected by Hopper for another project'The Farmer' in 1977. Interestingly 'Outlaw Song' only appears in the film soundrack as an instrumental while this version has a full set of lyrics and vocals, which gives this set quite a coup. Neither are truly essential if you're missing them but both are nice to have, acoustic Dylan-style ballads in the 'White Light' vein. 'American Dreamer'  starts off as a song about the evils of American consumerism and how it's taking over from the true meaning of the word  'dream' ('Maybe think of all the things a dollar bill can't bring, like soneone to hold you close and a song for you to sing') before summing upthe modern American dreamer as 'sometimes a child, sometimes a wise man'. 'Outlaw Song' sounds more like an 'Easy Rider' outtake, with some nice harmonica blowing and some poetic lyrics about how the 'rational' man lives in boundaries whilst 'real' men realise they have to break the law sometimes. This could have been a nice song if it was longer, but at just a single verse sounds more like a fragment than a fully thought out piece of work. Both songs are among the weaker songs on this excellent set but both are nice to have and everything here enhances the idea that Gene Clark was a genius, unheralded in his lifetime, whose work was one of rare beauty and thought. Like all good compositions hearing so many strong songs together makes his legacy shine all the brighter. Oh and full marks for having this album released on the tiny label 'Raven' - a Gene Clark talisman that haunted him for so much of his career and is a truly apt choice for his career overview!

"The Very Best Of The Byrds"
(Columbia, June 1997)
Mr Tambourine Man/All I Really Wanna Do/Chimes Of Freedom/I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better/Turn! Turn! Turn!/The Times They Are A-Changin'/The World Turns All Around Her/It Won't Be Wrong/He Was A Friend Of Mine/Eight Miles High/5D (Fifth Dimension)/Mr Spaceman/So You Want To Be A Rock and Roll Star?/My Back Pages/Rensaissance Fair/Goin' Back/Wasn't Born To Follow/Dolphin's Smile/You Ain't Goin' Nowhere/One Hundred Years From Now/You're Still On My Mind/Hickory Wind/The Ballad Of Easy Rider/Jesus Is Just Alright/It's All Over Now Baby Blue/Lay Lady Lay/Chestnut Mare
"I think that maybe I'm dreaming!"
Arguably the best of the many single-disc Byrds best-ofs around, this European set was successful enough to have received a brief release in America too. The track listing features an impressive 27 tracks from all eras of Byrd-dom and pretty much includes everything you mightr expect to see ('The Bells Of Rhymney' was the only surprise omission I could spot), all in the order with which they were released. The set is still a little Gram Parsons heavy (four songs, making 'Sweetheart Of The Rodeo'  the equal best represented album here along with 'Mr Tambourine Man') and includes the weirdest songs from 'Notorious Byrd Brothers ('Goin' Back and 'Dolphin's Smile') but otherwise is pretty much spot on. Greater liner notes would have been nice, but actually the packaging is pretty good with a then-rare colour photo of The Byrds lounging in a park which has since become something of an iconic image of the group, much re-printed in magazines and later compilations. All in all, not bad at all.
"To play on a


Chris Hillman "Like A Hurricane"
(SugarHill,  June 1998)
Backs Against The Wall/Angel's Cry/Sooner Or Later/Carry Me Home/Run Again/Second Wind/When You Walk In The Room/Like A Hurricane/Living On The Edge/Forgiveness/I'm Still Alive/Heaven's Lullaby
"From the past you just cam't hideaway, a dream hangin' on from yesterday"
Before you ask - no, sadly Chris Hillman does't record a bluegrass rendition of Neil Young and Crazy Horse's 'Like A Hurricane' (something I think I can safely say most of us are dying to hear one day). However he does throw in a neat bluegrass rendition of Searchers hit 'When You Walk In The Room' with some lovely pastiche-McGuinn Rickenbacker (as first pioneered by The Searchers of course as early as 1963), so all is forgiven. Hillman solo album number five (after varioius delays with various bands over the years) is more of a straightfoward 'pop' than anything Hillman had made in the last fifteen years or so. In fact this is arguably Hillman's most rounded collection, taking in folk-rock, country, bluegrass and pop along the way. That makes sense because, even for a writer who loves to look back, this record is intended as a concept album of thoughts reflecting on the things Hillmanb has done and the people he's been with across his musical journey. Sadly the record isn't quite as entertaining as that makes it sound - there's no attaempt to sum up his three years with The Byrds, for instance, or write that tribute to Gram Parsons he always threatened. However there are 'clues' that fans can find if they look hard enough, including Chris' recent conversion to Christianity and the length of time it took him to hear 'God's words' ('It's late, there's a voice calling me...will it ever set me free?'), one of his best love songs in delightful closer 'Heaven's Lullaby' and a stinging diatribe Hillman admitted was against David Crosby and his contempt for Chris and Roger's new belief on 'I'm Still Alive' ('Read about you in the paper, you're all over TV, you come off as my saviour but you can't save me').
Funnily enough, it's Hillman's own feeling that he's 'saving' or at least guiding his audience with the words on this album that rather gets in it's way. To date his colleagues have taken two very different directions with their faith: Roger went quiet then carried on as if nothing had happened (labeit with a few more Christian folk tunes in his repertoire than before), while Richie Furay recorded nothing but spiritual hymns (sometimes traditionally, sometimes with a rock and roll beat). There's a feeling at times that this album is a sermon by Father Hillman to save our souls, loking back on his life through the eyes of a new convert for times when he was approached by 'God' and wasn't listening and when it was the 'devil' (Gram isn't mentioned, but there's a sense that his mixture of pure belief and excessive drug-taking squandering his talents make him a worse fiend than even Crosby. While still less irritating and dogmatic than George Harrison's early albums after his religious conversion, the sad fact is this new polemic doesn't suit Hillman and brings out the worse in his nit-picking and point-scoring side. The title track, too, is a rather nasty song about an ex-wife and the misery she caused - after several albums of similar songs that have gradually sotened over the years it's rather sad to hear such vitriol still (especially given the many Desert Rose Band songs about forgiveness and moving on). As more or less the first solo Byrds album post-The Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame (depending if David Crosby's 'CPR' records count) and the deaths of Gene and Michael, it's a shame that this record is in many ways less of a tribute and more of a chance to bring up old wounds that never healed.
Still, 'Like A Hurricane' is by no means a bad LP and often overcomes these problems. When Hillman sings about his memories without any 'message' to put across his songs are often beautiful and usually poignant. The mixture of bluyegrass/country style backing and a rockier approach really works and it's a shame actually went back to bluegrass hereafter instead of maintaining this doubly pleasing sound. There's more thought given over to bith performances and songs than we've heard for rather a long time and the decision to keep each of his friends as 'guest stars' occasionally appearing rather than trying to shoe-horn them all in one every track is a good one, reminding us of several periods of Hillman's life (although sadly there are no other Byrds on this album). Hill,man's voice is still pretty and still offers great range, with more rockers on this album than there've been of late even if the ballads still win in terms of quantity and quality. Hillman may compare his life to being like a hurricane blowing him in all directions but the true quality of this album shines through when that passion is down to a light breeze, an unaugmented Hillman lazily looking back on his long career with awe and wonder at how fast he used to live. Not quite a 'second wind', then (interesting that Hillman should use the 'wind' motif so beloved of Gram Parsons so often on his own album of autobiography) but another mixed album that on it's better moments at least proves that Hillman can still sing of his breezes with eases.

Gene Clark "Flying High"
(Polydor, September 1998)
CD One: You Showed Me/I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better/Set You Free This Time/She Don't Care About Time/Tried So Hard/So You Say You Lost Your Baby/Your Baby/Los Angeles/I Pity The Poor Immigrant/That's Alright With Me/Train Leaves Here This Morning/Why Not Your Baby?/The Radio Song/Git It On Brother/Something's Wrong/Wall Around Your Heart/No Longer A Sweetheart Of Mine/Through The Morning, Through The Night/Kansas City Southern/Polly/Dark Hollow/One In A Hundred/She's The Kind Of Girl
CD Two: With Tomorrow/For A Spanish Guitar/The Virgin/Opening Day/Winter In/The American Dreamer/Full Circle Song/In A Misty Morning/I Remember The Railroad/Silver Raven/The True One/Lady Of The North/Hear The Wind/Silent Crusade/Past Addresses/Fair And Tender Ladies/Changes/Mr Tambourine Man
"I'll stop and look right past the pain"
Even if you came to this book not quite knowing who Gene Clark was, hopefully by now you'll be getting the impression that there wasn't one Clark but several: a confident charismatic performer with a great voice, a paranoid spotlight-shy recluse who doubted his own abilities, the measures hard-working prolific songwriter who had songs pouring out of him before cycles of self-destruction slowed him down and eventually silenced him. Getting all those different Gene Clarks on a single set is a colossal task, made harder by the fact that to cover everything Gene wrote the compilers would need to license tracks from a ridiculously long list of record labels: Columbia, A&M, Asylum, RSO, Making Waves, Capitol...No wonder, then, that so many potential compilers didn't bother, with Gene's legacy left surprisngly intact after his sudden and headline-catching death. Seven years on, however, Polydor finally put out the definitive guide to Gene's career, starting with The Byrds' demo recordings in 1964 and going all the way up to 1987 (sadly there's just a cover song from 'So Rebellious A Lover' and 'Firebyrd' respectively, this compilations' only real black mark). This set was received with some of the best reviews of any Byrds set of any time and was key in the re-appraisal of Gene's career that saw him much bigger in the first few years of the 21st century than he'd ever been in his lifetime (the first CD re-issues of many of his solo albums for the first time helped too).
You can make a case that this set isn't necessarily the very best of Gene Clark. There's no 'The World Turns All Around Her' from the Byrds years for instance, there's comparatively little from classics 'Roadmaster' and 'Two Sides To Every Story' while just three songs from 'No Other' - then still missing on CD - seemed like a woefully lost opportunity (only 'White Light' is properly documented). There's alos nothing from the McGuinn-Clark-Hillman records, which is a shame ('Stage Door' and 'Won't Let You Down' deserve to be heard again - and as a bonus these are the only two really strong tracks from those albums you'd need to own). However the second half of the first disc is a revelation, bringint together the very best of the rare 'Gosdin Brothers' album and all the major Clark-led moments from the 'Dillard and Clark' pair of records, which at the time were rarer than a Byrds reunion. There are also the two wonderful Byrd reunion songs fro 1970, not the better known stuff from 1973, which were even rarer. By and large, the track listing is pretty spot on too, with almost all the best songs here and classics like 'Train Comes Here This Morning' 'Silver Raven' and 'Past Addresses' are all here intact, the backbone of any excellent retrospective made all the harder because Gene technically never had any 'hits'.
There are three unreleased songs exclusive to this set, which while nice to have are to be honest a pity because they're clearly not up to the consistent standards kept across most of the set. These are a pair of late 1960s tracks, 'That's Alright By Me' a rather bland pop-folk song by Gene and a cover of Dylan's 'I Pity The Poor Immigrant' that's fun but inconsequential, plus 'Winter In', a 'White Light' outtake will end up as a bonus track on that album and is very much in keeping with the theme of the album: acoustic, folky and poetic, while not quite matching the best of that set. Still, it's not the outtakes that you need to own this set for: it's for the excellent track listing if you're a nercomer to Gene's work or are missing quite a few of his rarer albums or for the exquisite packaging by friend Sid Griffin and bandmate Chris Hillman if you already know everything. Gene Clark really was flying high, as close to eight miles high (another song conspicuous by it's absence, incidentally) as you can ever get from a single set. The only way 'Flying High' could have been bettered would have been to release everything in a huge box set - but alas licensing rights and expense means we're still waiting, despite the sheer anount of lesser artists who've covered far less ground getting one to themselves.

"Byrd Parts"
(Columbia, September 1998)
Willie Gene (Crosby 1963)/Come Back Baby (Crosby 1963)/The Only Girl I Adore (The Jet Set)/When The Ship Comes In (The Hillmen)/It Won't Be Wrong (The Beefeaters)/Anathea (David Hemmings)/Splendour In The Grass (Jackie De Shannon)/Back Street Mirror (David Hemmings)/You Don't Miss Your Water (Gram Parsons)/Sum Up Broke (The International Submarine Band)/One Day Week (International Submarine Band)/Why Not Your Baby? (Dillard and Clark)/Lyin' Down The Middle (Dillard and Clark)/Don't Be Cruel (Dillard and Clark)/Runaway Country (Dillard Expedition)/Just A Season (McGuinn solo)/Captain Video (Skip Battin featuring Roger McGuinn)/Why Have You Been Gone So Long? (Clarence White and Ry Cooder)/Ode To Billy Joe (Nashville West)/Melodies For A Byrd In Flight (Gene Parsons)/Hot Burrito #1 (Flying Burrito Brothers)/Don't You Write Her Off (McGuinn Clark and Hillman)/Won't Let You Down (McGuinn Clark and Hillman)/Turn Your Radio On (McGuinn and Hillman)
"If I had one wish I'd ask to relive the splendour in the grass"
Wanting to release another 'Never Before' but running out of tracks The Byrds recorded together, Columbia did the next best thing and put together this jumble of obscure solo songs by as many band members as they could find. The end result rather falls between two stools to make a loud clattering noise on the floor being not quite a 'solo Byrds best of' but not really a 'rarities' set either: the first McGuinn-Clark-Hillman album, for instance, went top 40 in the states - better than 'Notorious Byrd Brothers'  - while single 'Don't You Write Her Off' outsold everything in this book bar 'Mr Tambourine Man' 'Turn! Turn! Turn!' 'Eight Miles High' and 'So You Want To Be A Rock 'n' Roll Star?' However, as a one-stop shop to what the other Byrds got up to for those who don't want to delve deeper into the recesses of the second-hand record shops, this is an essential purchase, taking in the band's early days (Crosby's first demos for Jim Dickson, appearing here a full three years bfeore 'The Preflyte Sessions'), Chris Hilman's starring role in bluegrass band 'The Hillmen', Roger McGuinn backing anybody who was anybody in America in 1964; almost-a-star David Hemmings covering a rare Gene Clark song 'Backstreet Mirror' (an odd song quopting from 'Here Without You' but still the compilation highlight), Jackie De Shannon backed by The Byrds on an unreleased oddity 'Splenour In The Grass', Gram Parsons' early days with the International Submarine Band, Clarence White and Gene Parsons jamming in 'Nasville West', what Gene Clark went on to do with Doug Dillard and the Skip Battin song 'Captain Video' written to sound as much like The Byrds as possible and featuring Roger as guest star. You could well quibble with the track listing  and don't worry I will- the International Submarine Band's flop singles are far rarer than their LP tracks and well worth collecting; The Flying Burritos ought to be represented by a song Gram and Chris made together ('Christine's Tune' would be a much more obvious and Byrdsy song to choose), the McGuinn-guitar backing songs ought to be fewer as you can't really tell it's him and the decision to add three M-C-H songs (and not even Clark classic 'Backstage Pass' or Hillman cover 'Surrender To Me') is plain daft given that these songs are - comapratively - widely released and well known when more obscure songs could have been found (Gene Parsons, for instance, is under-served, while John York's solo work is entirely absent). The packaging too is rather minimalist, repeating the plain-black-withp-fancy-writing cover of the box set 9which itself took some stick from fans, relegating one of the 1960s' most colourful bands to a front sleeve that looks more like a Black Sabbath LP. However this is nevertheless a handy one-stop package that rounds most of the essential Byrds solo tracks not out on million-selling albums and offers a good taste as to the many different influences that went into the making of The Byrds in all their many sub-species and colourings.

John York "Claremont Dragon"
(Taxim, 'Mid' 1999)
On Whose Door?/Rubiah/Another Life/No More War/Heartache Suzanne/Jennifer Tsai/Target Of A Thouysand Arrows/Money Like Rain/Daddyu's Gonna Pick Her Man/Oh My Children/Half-Breeds Are The Hope Of The World/My Lai/Spirit Is Stronger
"We have no idea what life is like for the rest of our peers"
Bob Dylan's return to folk over the past ten years or so seems to have gone done rather well - fans have enjoyed his older maturer croaks fitting in better with the laidback feel of songs that don't have Dylan shooting his mouth off quite so often or as harshly. However he's clearly learnt that technique from The Byrds, who nearly all went in this direction at least once during their solo careers. John York is the Byrds who most resembles Dylan in terms of singing and songwriting and 'Claremont Dragon', his first 'real' solo album not attached to a pack of Indian tarot cards, is a joy for the same reasons people adore Dylan now. In many ways York also sounds like Gene Clark, with a strong feel for imagery and metaphor on a sdequence of songs that all have something to say and somewhere different to go, even if the end destination is often something of a mixed blessing. Interestingly this is hands-down the most folky album of originals any of The Byrds made after 1965 (although you stake a claim with McGuinn's 'Folk Den Project' of cover songs I suppose) and as a result is of most interest to fans who struggle to sit through any Byrds tracks past the first two albums, complete with fiddles, recorders and a wholly acoustic vibe. This record certainly doesn't resemble 'Fido', York's lone published Byrds song with it's fiery yet comic take on a canine companion - although it does sound at one with the cover songs he brought to the band, like 'Tulsa County Blue' and 'Way Behind The Sun' (indeed, this album resembles Pentangle far more so than The Byrds, which makes sense given that York was covering this latter song of theirs with The Byrds before most people had ever heard of them). As a result this won't please fan who love The Byrds' rock and roll or purist country tendencies, but folk is a key and overlooked part of their sound - especially their early sound - and in many ways it's a shame that the other Byrds haven't embraced this sound more over their second career. Highlights include the rather Crosby-ish dicussion of different people's different lives during 'On Whose Door', the loosely 'Chimes Of Freedom' styled 'No More War' and the brave race-mixing protest songs 'Half-Breeds Are The Hope Of The World', which is enough to give UKIP nightmares. In all a very likeable album that deserves to be much better known. 


"Rice, Rice, Hillman and Pedersen"
(Rounder, 'Mid' 1999)
Doesn't Mean That Much Anymore*/Side Effects Of Love/One Of These Days/Never Ending Song Of Love/Friend Of The Devil/Out Among The Stars/Monnshine/Moment Of Glory*/The Year Of El Nino/Hearts Overflowing/I Will*/Walkin' Blues*/I'll Be On That Good Road Someday
* = Hillman compositions
"That same old train's gonna come back again and roll all my blues away"
The second collaboration between Hillman and his bluegrass friends isn't quite up to the high standards of the first. Chris is still the prime mover behind the album, whatever the credits say, writing four of the thirteen tracks (with Larry Rice contributing two) and taking lead vocals on quite a bit of the album, although this is very much a 'group' album, with the feel of, say, The Flying Burrito Brothers rather than The Souther-Hillman-Furay Band, with everyone invoved on each of the tracks. Oddly, Hillman sounds down in the dumps for the first time in a while, with each of his songs melancholic and depressed, which is odd given that he was actually having a rather good time of things by most accounts, with a brand new band and a strong relationship with his third wife; Chris is clearly still feeling the 'failure' of the end of the Desert Rose Band here. 'Doesn't Mean That Much Anymore' is a sad place to start, Hillman again imagining his life as a long road and reflecting that all of his past successes don't coiunt for anything when the 'road' stretching out before him is in disarray. 'Moment Of Glory' is a straight country weepie with a singalong chorus that longs for better times, with the belief that 'every man has a moment of hope' - and the narrator hopes his comes soon. 'I Will', a collaboration with Steve Hill, is one of the weakest songs on the album, a rather anonymous devotion of love which includes one of Hillman's favourite lines about 'never surrendering'. Finally of Chris' originals, 'Walkin' Blues' is about his best, a clever strutting country-blues with some lovely Byrdsy harmonies as Hillman tries to walk off his latest 'heartache'. The cover songs are a particularly fascinating mix, containing pieces by Bonnie Bramlett, Flatt and Scraggs and the album highlight, a memorable laidback version of Grateful Dead classic 'Friend Of Mine' with Pedersen on vocals and the whole band solo-ing in turn on folk instruments (which sounds very good amongst the more traditional songs here). The result is a patchy and rather repetitive work but one with several strong moments, especially the songs where all four men get the chanxe to show off their sterling acoustic playing. Only Clarence White's time in The Byrds can compare to the laidback-yet-virtusoso affair of some of these moments!

Gram Parsons "Another Side To This Life"
(Sundazed, Recorded 1965-1966, Released December 2000)
Codine/Wheel Of Fortune/Another Side Of This Life/High Flyin' Bird/November Nights/Zah's Blues/Reputation/That's The Bag I'm In/Willie Jean/They Still Go Down/Pride Of Man/The Last Thing On My Mind/Hey Nellie Nellie/She's The Woman I Love-Good Time Music/Brass Buttons/I Just Can't Take It Anymore/Searchin'/Candy Man
"I feel like I'm dying - but I don't wish I was dead"
Gram Parson's reputation continued to grow as we turned into a new millennium, the mystique and promise of his 26 short years on Earth resulting in the film 'Grand Theft Parsons' shortly after. However the best release from this sudden surge of interest was surely this collection of unheard (and - miraculously - unbootlegged) demo recordings an 18/19 year old Parsons recorded into a home tape recorder across 1965 and 1966. Fans expecting country standards from their once and future King were shocked though: this tape is pure folk, full of all the sorts of standard folk cover songs everybody in the day was doing (including the title track, also done by The Animals and Jefferson Airplane but heard here at it's most traditional) and 'High Flyin' Bird' (another Airplane classic which Noiel Gallagher named his solo band after). Country isn't even the 'secondary' influence here - that's R and B thanks to a fiesty cover of The Coasters' 'Searchin' (also a single by The Hollies in 1963) and Rev Gary Davis' 'Candyman'. Gram can also be heard singing 'Wille Jean', an old folk tale recorded two years before by David Crosbym showing that the early Byrds had more in common than many fans have supposed over the years!
  What's even more shocking is how good Gram sounds: he isn't dabbling with folk because it's his only means of playing but seriously involved in it, with his full-on tenor sounding remarkably good for an untried singer - better even than on his country standards. Gram is also a burgeoning writer and even this early into his career has written two of his all time classics: the rocky Byrds outtake/Flying Burritos song 'Reputation' and the lovely 'Brass Buttons', which won't be released until 1973! Both sound particularly lovely here, Gram tapping into his inner rock star on the former and his inner crooner on the latter and proving that while the rest of this tape is standards stuff (with folk singers this good two a penny in 1965) he's already swarching for something more original and better. However, having said that, all of this set is convincing and enjoyable without a single bad performance here - ironicaly making this occasionally hissy covers-led unreleased  project arguably the most consistent Parsons record of them all! Fans will also be pleased to learn about three early Parsons originals all exclusive to this set, but the bad news is that this trio (the strangely Gene Clark-like 'Wheel Of Fortune', the earnest I'm-not-who-you-think-I-am 'November Nights' and the Muddy Waters As Frank Sinatra 'Zah's Blues') are probably the weakest songs here, not up to the period original Gram did return to. Still, taken as a whole this is a mighty impressive set which does indeed show a whole other side to Gram's early history and led to much re-thinking about the country pioneer's background, sounding here a much of a folkie as anyone else around in 1965.


Gram Parsons "Sacred Hearts and Fallen Angels - The Anthology"
(Rhino, May 2001)
CD One: Blue Eyes/Luxury Liner/Do You Know How It Feels To Be Lonesome?/I Must Be Somebody Else You've Known/Miller's Cave/Knee Deep In The Blues/Hickory Wind/You're Still On My Mind/The Christian Life/You Don't Miss Your Water/One Hundred Years From Nowe/Christine's Tune/Sin City/Do Right Woman/The Dark End Of The Street/Wheels/Juanita/Hot Burrito #1/Hot Burrito #2/High Fashion Queen/Older Guys/Vody Cody/Wild Horses/Sing Me Back Home
CD Two: To Love Somebody/Still Feeling Blue/We'll Sweep Out The Ashes In The Morning/A Song For You/Streets Of Baltimore/She/The New Soft Shoe/Kiss The Children/How Much I' ve Lied/Drug Store Truck Drivin' Man/That's All It Took/California Cotton Fields/Return Of The Greivous Angel/Hearts On Fire/Brass Buttons/$1000 Dollar Wedding/Love Hurts/Ooh Las Vegas/In My Hour Of Darkness/Brand New Heartache/Sleepless Night/The Angels Rejoiced Last Night
"One hundred years from this day will the people still feel the same way? Still say the things that they're saying right now?"
Well it might not have been quite one hundred years - in truth it was 28 years - but the sentiment scribbled by a 21-year-old Gram still sounds prescient when attached to this compilation. By 2001 Gram's standing in music had never been stronger. Well recieved re-issues of his two solo albums on CD, the growing fame of co-star Emmylou Harris and a general nostalgia for fallen sixties idols meant that the rugged good looks and mysterious romantic death of Gram had made him a star far bigger than he'd been in his lifetime. If anything sensitive re-issue label Rhino, who'd made stars of all sorts of half-forgotten legends across the 1990s and 2000s, were rather late to this party when they decided to assemble not only the best of Gram's solo work but his time with The Byrds and Flying Burrito Brothers plus his work with the International Submarine Band. Remarkably this is the first time all strands from Gram's career had ever been woven together for a true overviewe of his short career and was no mean feat: it involved licensing songs from four seperate record companies (LIH for the Submarine Band, Columbia for The Byrds, A&M for the Burritos and Reprise for the solo work).
Like most Rhino sets, this double disc set was made with love and care, working as both a sampler for newcomer fans and a little extra something for the collector. This came in the form of three songs intended for the 'Grievous Angel' LP but left off the album by Gram's widow Gretchen. The Bryant Brothers' 'Brand New Heartache' and 'Sleepless Nights' are respectably rather ordinary fast and slow-paced songs that would have been fine for the Everly Brothers but sound rather heavy and leaden in Granm's hands (Gretchen may have axed the latter because of the closenes of Emmylou in the latter, one of the closest songs on the record to a declaration of love - although it could be that the song was just too personal a choice, given that Gram probably had his ex in mind when singing it). The Louvin Brothers' 'The Angels Rejoiced Last Night' is an excellent addition to the set though and would have fitted in with the album's theme of redemption and sinning angels all too well. Other rarities include an outtake from the Submarine Band's 'Safe At Home' album, the nicely up-tempo 'Knee Deep In The Blues' (which oddly suits the country style despite being an unashamed blues, highlioghted by Gram's swaggering folk picking guitar solo!) There's also three songs from a concert album, 'Live 1973' (released in 1983 but very quickly deleted and now rather rare) which sounds rather more convincing than the 'fake' live tracks on 'Grievous Angel': covers of 'That's All It Took' and 'California Cotton Fields' plus a rare cover of the Byrds co-write he never hung around long enough to record 'Drug Store Truck Driving Man' (as featured on the 'Dr Byrds and Mr Hyde' LP).
All in all, this is a great set containing the 'right' songs from the 'Safe At Home' album,'Hickory Wind' and 'One Hundred Years From Now', his best two songs from 'Sweetheart' (although its a shame there wasn't room four outtakes 'Reuptation' and 'Lazy Days'), the better songs from his two Flying Burrito albums (including Christine's Tune' and the two 'Hot Burritos') and 'She' 'Brass Buttons' and 'In My Hour Of Darkness', the three best songs from his two solo albums. It would have been nice to have had a 'complete' Gram Parsons by extending this set by just a single disc, thus capturing the seven missing Submarine Band songs, the four Byrds vocals, the two missing originald from 'Gilded Palace Of Sin' and the mere four missing from his solo work (perhaps topped off with the rest of that live set). But as an introduction to Gram Parsons it's excellent: everything you'd most likely to want to hear is probably here and Gram's sudden changed of direction somehow make more sense when heard as part of an overall career. Far from merely sweeping out the ashes the morning after, like many posthumous compilations, Parsons' legacy has never burned brighter than here, including the years when he was alive...

Gene Clark "Gypsy Angel: The Demos 1983-1980"
(Evangeline,  July 2001)
Pledge To You/Mississippi Detention Camp/Kathleen/Rock Of Ages/The Last Thing On My Mind/Dark Of My Moon/Your Fire Burning/Freedom Walk/Love Wins Again/Back In My Life Again/Day For Night/Gypsy Rider
"Is that all we're meant to do? Just get older until we're not here anymore?"
As the title suggests, 'Gypsy Angel' provides glimpses into two lost gene Clark projects that might have existed in two alternate universes: four demos from the period just before 'Firebyrd' when Gene was fighting his way out of a creative slump and eight from 1990 that gene was working up into an album loosely due to be recorded in 1991, the year he died. All of these songs feature Gene's songs reduced to the bare minimum and come across with the stark sincerity of 'White Light', albeit in fairly poor sound quality (unlike the 'demos' from that project, which sound as good as the real thing, this really is a low-fi inspirations-just-come-to-me set of recordings). That will annoy as many people as it will please, with gene hitting a few bum notes on his quest to express his inner soul and the backing is extremely minimal to the point of being non-existant some of the time. But this is undeniably a beautiful and important set featuring several songs that at least had the potential to becomes Clark classics and sounding all the more intimate and emotional for being heard through layers of murky hiss. Some singer-songwriters are born for centre-stage with high quality sound and the spotlight upon them but Gene was always an artist who worked best in the shadows - this CD is proof that at times he worked best when singing to no one other than himself.
The record isn't quite up to being another 'White Light' 'No Other' or 'Two Sides To Every Story'. Gene hasn't had time to think things through yet and many of these songs ramble on past their natural ening point, with an average playing time of around six minutes across the album, presumably with a few ideas attached that wouldn't have made it through to a final edit. However that in itself is fascinating: we've moaned a few times at the other Byrds across this book for coming up with a good idea but then never going anywhere with it - even as great a figure as David Crosby sometimes falls into this trap. Gene has the opposite problem of having too much to say and his lesser ideas would still be moments of pure genius for other writers. Clark isn't at the top of his game here by any means but he's a long way away from the decrepid drugged-out shambling wreck he'd often depicted to be during the 1980s and which albums like 'Firebyrd' and 'So Rebellious A Lover' don't really dispel.
Singingling tracks out is hard to do: even after lots of playings this album still comes across as largely the same and the lyrics are harder to hear than on some of Gene's other records. However there are some songs that stand out just for being so different to anything else Gene had ever written before. 'Mississppi Detention Camp'  is another guilt-ridden song about the way gene's career turned out, starting off with the narrator 'on the run at seventeen' , his 'fantasy' swlowly turning 'into a pile of the blues', dreaming of returning home to bride 'Mary Sue' (a figure who crops up a lot in gene's songs). 'Rock Of Ages' is a deeply curious song, somehow merging rock and roll references with Biblical ones, comparing a songwriter touched by the gift of insight and inspiration to Moses walking down from the Sermon of the Mount, both praised heavily at first and then ignored, suffering the ignominy of silence. 'Dark Of My Moon' is a moving sequel to 'Because Of You' where instead of the sky opening and 'white light' pouring in the night is dark and the sky black 'because of you' - Gene effecticely turning his back on the religious spirituality of his former track with a needy 'you don't care!' 'The Freedom Walk' is almost a lesson in alliteration, with one of the greatest opening couplets of them all: 'Now and then the chill of fear drums demonic dischords near, with hate the innocence of youth is raped before the age of reason, even sees the truth'. Quite! 'Day For Night', meanwhile, eerily talks about premature death and though it declares like 'White Light' that the sun will rise as planned every morning for the forseeable futurem it acknowledges for the first time that Gene himself might not be around to see it ('The end of truth, the end of life, may dawn upon you without warning').
The result is an album that's heavy going and often depressing and takes an awful lot of concentration to really get to know, which is awfully sad given that Gene effecticely went out at a personal low rather than the high he deserved. However creatively it's a different story: this album - or the 1990 part of it anyway - might not have brought Gene great sales, wealth and fame but it would have been a real word-of-mouth set to have grown in stature every year, the way that 'No Other' ultimately did. Yes it's hard work as a listener sometimes and would have been even without the surface noise and reptetitive backing, but in a way that's as it should be: the problem with Gene's published 1980s recordings are that they tend to be 'surface' albums, easy on the ear but a little too gentle on the mind compared to what Gene can do. 'Gyspy Angel' might not be the very best of Gene Clark but it's a step in the right direction, rock's Mr Tambourine Man back in touch with his muse again, even if it's a darker sadder muse than means he (probably) wasn't going to feel a whole lot better any time soon making this last album. Thank goodness though that these tapes exist and eight years after Gene's sad death can be heard by everyone, a last great speech from a figure who had so much to say, even when we weren't listening to him.

Rice, Rice, Hillman and Pedersen  "Running Wild"
(Rounder,  October 2001)
San Antone/You're Running Wild/The Things We Said Today/4+20/Two Of A Kind/Just Passsin' Through/The Mystery That Won't Go Away/Take Me Back Again/Maybe She'll Get Lucky/Hard Hearted/It's A Long Way To The Top Of The World/About Love
"I was raised in an innocent age, a story of love in every page"
The third and final album in the RRHP trilogy is in many ways the most interesting of the three - containing more daring cover songs, a more eclectic sound and for the first time a drummer - although it's clear that the quartet are running out of steam and ideas at times. This time around Hillman takes something of a back seat, with a mere three songs to his name, despite this project sounding more like the Desert Rose Band than ever (there's a more varied sound here than plain bluegrass, while the Herb Pedersen gets more to do and their old pedal steel player Jay Dee Maness is by now a full part of the band's distinctive sound). What's more these three songs areb't exactly classics and start to feel like Deja Vu (the emotion, not the CSNY song, sadly) if you've heard Hillman's career in order till now. Chris actually starts the album for once with 'San Antone', a straight ahead country tune about Chris' narrator leaving home for a new town (yes, again!) 'Just Passin' Through' is a breathless bluegrass number about a couple splitting up who were never meant to be together anyway (yup, done that one!) Finally, 'Maybe She'll Get Lucky' is the most interesting of the three with some neat lyrics about being 'trapped' that could refer to Hillman's career as well as his love life and an interesting sideways look at paranoia (is this song even about Gene Clark? The inmage of a girl 'whose never been good at handling things, who wants to run when the doorbell rings' sounds very familiar somehow), even if musically it's also a bit old hat.
Elsewhere Larry Rice gets his usual sturdy traditional-sounding bluegrass songs and the quartet tackle the usual range of standard country songs from Buck Owens to the title track, a hit for the Louvin Brothers (and such an obvious choice it's a surprise the Flying Burritos or Gram-era Byrds hadn't done it!) However there's some real gems spinkled in the mix too, including a delightful bluegrass version of The Beatles' 'The Things We Said Today' that works really well (the Rice/Pedersen/Hillman vocals have never sounded so full or so strong!) and a rattlingly good try at another Stephen Stills classic, the better known '4+20' (from CSNY's 'Deja Vu' album of 1970) with Hillman offering a sensitive slowed-down reading. Whether these two songs are enough to make the aqlbum worth owning - in truth the other ten aren't that great - is up to you, but yet again one of Hillman's bands seems to be reaching a peak of being interesting again just at the same time they've started imploding again.

Skip Battin and John York "Family Tree"
(Folkest Dischi,  Recorded 1987 Released 2001)
My Shoes Keep Walking Back To You/Dandelion/Smack Dab In The Middle/She Belongs To Me/Blowin' In The Wind/Catch The Wind/Why You've Been Gone For So Long/Christine/It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry/Witchi Tai To
"Don't the brakemen look good, mama?!"
What do you do when The Byrds have flown away and left you behind and you still feel you have music to offer - yet no one is listening to you? Well one good solution is to meet up with other people in the same boat and form your own 'supergroup' more likely to appeal to old fans. John York and Skip Battin never met when they were in the band - Skip was hired as John's replacement in fact - and yet their work seems tailor made for each other and both serve as sympathetic collaborators to the other. Taken separately York's work is sporadically brilliant yet tends towards the mainstream; taken separately Battin's work is equally sporadically brilliant but tends towards the weird. Put the two team players together and you get pretty much half an excellent album from each, with a mutual understanding based around the pair's strong faiths (York is linked to the American Indian healing group while Battin has always had an interest in Buddhism). The result isn't as inventive as York's work with another ex-Byrd Gene Clark from the same period or as distinctive as Skip on his own, but the pairing makes sense and occasionally takes off (usually when Skip gets all weird and John pulls his back to mainstream as per the opening track). Recorded in a hurry in a low budget Italian studio in 1987, with session men guitarist Ricky Mantoan and drummer Beppe D'Angelo along for the ride, unfortunately their intended European record label went bhust before they could release it. Luckily an Italian label Folkestdischi heard about it and released it a full 14 years later when the Byrds were big news again, although unfortunately even this release isn't exactrly common. How you feel about this record depends how you feel about thwe two Byrds - this clearly isn't a pioneering, groundbreaking, essential work in the way that a Gene Clark or a David Crosby set would be. However it is rather good, pleasing on the ear without making too many mistakes, and both men come out of the union rather well.


"The Preflyte Sessions"
(Sundazed,  January 2002/February 2012)
CD One: The Reason Why/You Won't Have To Cry/She Has A Way/You Showed Me/Here Without You/Don't Be Long/I Knew I'd Want You/Boston/Tommorow Is A Long Ways Away (Electric)/For Me Again/It's No Use/You Movin'/Please Let Me Love You/The Airport Song/Mr Tambourine Man/She Has A Way #2/ I Knew I'd Want You #2/Boston (backing)/You Showed Me (backing)/The Times They Are A-Changin' (backing)
CD Two: The Only Girl I Adore/Tomorrow Is A Long Ways Away (Acoustic)/You Showed Me/I Knew I'd Want You #3/You Won't Have To Cry #2/Mr Tambourine Man #2/Willie Jean/Come Back Baby/Jack Of Diamonds/Get Together/She Has A Way #2/Here Without You #2/For Me Again #2/It's No Use #2/You Movin' #2/Boston #2/She Has A Way #3/You Movin' #3/The Reason Why  #2/It's No Use #2/Studio Chat
'Preflyte Plus' 2012 Re-issue Bonus Tracks: Tomorrow Is A Long Ways Away #3/You Won't Have To Cry #2/You Showed Me #2/I Knew I'd Want You #4/Mr Tambourine Man #3/She's The Kind Of Girl #2/I'm Just A Young Man/Everybody Has Been Burned
"There's not too many words that I can say, because I can't describe my love for you this way"
This two disc set is a real litmus paper test of the listener's feelings for The Byrds. Effectively a combination of the 1964 pre-fame sessions already released on 'Preflyte' and 'In The Beginning' with a few not-that-different extras, this set is either the single greatest archive release ever or a singulatory lesson in the art of suffering all collectors must bear. As we've seen already these outtakes are often poorly performed, frequently rough and only show flashes of the genius the Byrds will go on to show, but they remain endlessly fascinating: the re-recorded songs are full of subtle and occasionally not so subtle differences, while the unused, abandoned material is frequently glorious, songs like 'Boston' 'You Movin' and 'Tomorrow Is A Long Ways Away' proving that The Byrds could easily have squeezed a third album out of their first year together which would have beaten the first two hands down. The trouble comes when the repetitions start creeping in: yes every performance here is audibly different but not to any great earth shattering extent, meaning that by the time you've reached, say, the fourth almost-identical version of 'I Knew I'd Want You' (the one song here that didn't change that much in the re-make on the debut album) you're ready to throw the whole set out of the window. A 2012 re-issue of this 2001 compilation made this dilemma worse, not better, featuring an additional eight songs which are about the best things here and amongst the most essential for Byrds collectors, although only Crosby's 1963 recordings 'I'm Just A Young Man' and a stunning early version of 'Everybody Has Been Burned' (re-recorded as late as 1967 for 'Younger Than Yesterday') are actually that different. An album that will make your spirits soar and your heart sink, all at the same time, especially about the halfway mark when you realise that you have virtually the same recordings to sit through again...

Chris Hillman and Herb Pedersen "Way Out West"
(Back Porch Records,  'Mid' 2002)
 Backporch Boy/There You Go/Invitation To The Blues/No Longer A Sweetheart Of Mine/Problems/Better Man Than That/The Old Cross Road/Sugar Cane/After All Is Said and Done/You Done Me Wrong/Save The Last Dance For Me/Are You Missing Me?/That's The Way It Was/You're Learning/Our Love It Don't Come Easy/Good Year/Backporch Boy (Reprise)
"I'm the kind of guy, stubborn as can be, keeps it all inside, I make you pull it out of me"
With the Rice/Rice/Hillman/Pedersen collaboration coming to a natural end, Hillman chose to stay on with his mandolin playing buddy - who by now has become by far his longest standing musical partner after some twenty years together, double the length of his work with McGuinn and Gram Parsons combined. Getting back to basics, the band return to an even more stripped down style and go all out bluegrass for a record that's full of much more life and pizazz than 'Running Wild' without ever quite matching that record for danger levels and experimentation. The new labvel the pair have signed with - 'Back Porch records' rather says it all - this is an album made not for stardom, money, fame or kudos but made purely out of passion for the music itself. You get the sense, though, that for possibly the first time ever Hillman is recording exactly the sort of recording he always envisaged he might make one day - which might be why the pair of bluegrassers chose this album to print their baby pictures on (that must surely be Hillman at the top, with the same combination of intense stare and cheeky grin, although the short-cropped 1940s haircut doesn't show off his famous curls). You wonder what the young Hillman would have made out of his future career, all the rises and falls and the sudden twists of fate that turned the bassist into first a folk-rock, then a psychedelic, then a country star before allowing him to finally make the pure bluegrass record he'd been threatening to make since his teens. You sense he'd be rather pleased to have got there at last and probably more porud of this record than all the successes with The Byrds, The Flying Burrito Brothers and Manassas.
In all Chris writes six songs on the album, mostly with his regular collaborator Steve Hill. They're a mixed bunch this time around, up from those written for 'Running Wild' but largely lacking the finesse of the Desert Rose Band years. 'Backporch Boy' is a fiery instrumental played twice across the album, the two musicians egging each other on throughout. 'There You Go' is a country-pop blend with a fun tune and the usual by now rather tired lyrics about a divorce. The cosy 'Better Man Than That' is the album highlight, a sensitive song about both halves of a couple wanting to pour out their feelings but finding they can't speak to each other. 'After All Is Said and Done' sports the greatest tune, however, a Flying Burrito-style country-rocker with some nice pedal steel work and some great harmonies between the pair of singers. A neat song about growing old, this ttrack also includes the neat nod of the head to a fallen colleague with the line 'we both know the world turns around us'. 'That's The Way It Was' alas is a rather irrittating shouty song with Hillman's usually excellent nostalgic lyrics failing him this time around (somewhere around the middle the song changes from autbiography to a criminal's lifetime on the run, although Hillman's own life is much more interesting!) Thankfully 'Good Year' is more interesting, an upbeat song about having survived a troubled time which concludes that despite all the struggles 'every moment is a blessing'.
Elsewhere Herb Pedersen gets two credits to his name including the delightful Burritos-sounding rocker 'Our Love It Don't Come Easy' (the other album highlight) and an impressive eight cover songs. Sadly there's little here quite as ambitious as the pair's recent collaborations with the Rice brothers though, with the usual string of country standards by the likes of the Louvin Brothers, Roger Miller, George Jones and Bill Monroe. There is a nice rendition of The Coasters' standard 'Save The Last Dance For Me', though, complete with a pedal steel guitar solo - you'll never hear a rock and roll version of it in quite the same way ever again! Overall then this is the usual Hillman 21st century fare, though sung with a bit more heart and with a bit more care than of late. Lovers of bluegrass and Hillman's distinctive style will love it - those after another 'Notorious Byrd Brothers' might wonder what all the fuss is about.

"Mojo Presents: An Introduction To The Byrds"
(Columbia, September 2003)
I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better/The Bells Of Rhymney/Mr Tambourine Man/She Don't Care About Time/The World Turns All Around Her/Turn! Turn! Turn!/I See You/I Know My Rider/5D (Fifth Dimension)/Eight Miles High/Everybody Has Been Burned/Have You Seen Her Face?/Lady Friend/So You Want To Be A Rock and Roll Star?/Change Is Now/Draft Morning/Goin' Back/Hickory Wind/One Hundred Years From Now/You Ain't Goin' Nowhere/Drug Store Truck Driving Man/Gunga Din/Chestnut Mare/Bugler
"I think I'm returning to those days when I was young enough to learn the truth"
Mojo Magazine's range of 'introductions' to a whole load of 'cult bands' was sadly short lived but was fun while it lasted, covering everyone from The Isley Brothers to Leonard Cohen. The Byrds were a natural for their range: cool and respected and sixties (like most things covered by the mag since it's beginnings in the 1990s), but not especially best-sellers or having a natural place in al of their reader's homes. While this compilation includes all the obvious hits you'd expectto be there, you can also tell that this is a compilation made by someone who knows the band well, with nuggets like 'I Know My Rider' (unreleased till 1987), 'Gunga Din' (the highlight of the 'Easy Rider' soundtrack) and 'Change Is Now' ('Notorious Byrd Brothers') all glorious examples of tyhe shimmering jewels so often passed over in The Byrds' canon. Sadly the set is yet again rather stingy on the later years and unusually is rather stingy on the early ones too, with Gene Clark's contribution restricted to one B-side ('She Don't Care About Time') and one album track 'The World Turns All Around Her' (contrast with Gram Parsons, who also gets two despite playing a much smaller role in The BYrds' story - thought to be fair they are his best two). The packahging too isn't the best: the 'white' sleeve got dirty really quickly (before most of the first batch had been bought) and having the band's images in a small picture in the middle of the sleeve with the band stuck in shirts and ties seems to run against the 'cool' oozing out from the songs. That's only a small issue however - the music, which is what really matters, is almost all superb and this disc offers some very excellent side dishes alongside the main courses that are always being served. At the time I was hoping for a whole string of these 'Introduction' sets to come out with AAA bands, but as yet it's not to be: The Byrds are to date the only one of 'our' bands honoured in this way!

Gene Clark "Under The Silvery Moon"
(Delta,  Recorded 1985-87, Released December 2003)
Mary Sue/Carry On/Don't You Know?/Nothing But An Angel/More Than That Now/Sleep Will Return/Will You Still Love Tomorrow?/Immigrant Girl/Rest Of Your Life/My Marie/Fair and Tender Ladies/Can't Say No/Dangerous Games/You Just Love Cocaine
"I took out my guitar as a means to survive, with my sole intention to keep our love alive"
When Gene Clark died, he left not only a large released legacy but also an awful lot of unfinished recordings that he never got round to finishing. 'Silvery Moon' dates from the last batch of recordings nearer the end of Gene's life and should really have been released under the speudonym 'CRY' (Clark, Pat Robinson and another ex-Byrd John York) - or at least that was the original plan when the trio were working up these demos, a natural extension of the 'Byrds 20th Anniversary Tour' project. Like a lot of Clark projects it started with a bang, Gene on top form as he poured out his soul on his first real batch of 'proper' songs in a decade or so, but ended in a whimper as he slowly lost interest and the songs dried up, most of them doomed to exist only as demos. Pat Robertson, a songwriter who shared the same manager, was introduced to Gene with an eye that the pair might be good for another (Robinson was a consistent musician and a born hard worker who wrote some excellent material in his own right but who lacked the natural originality of Gene - effectively both men had something the other lacked). John York, meanwhile, was a supportive guitarist who might not have worked with Gene the first time round but clearly had a sympathetic feel for his partner's more expressive folk songs that he never quite shared with McGuinn's rockier or more countryfied style. Both men achieve the impossible, coaxing a record 24 songs plus from Gene - the most he'd written in in one go since Byrds days (that's all that have appeared so far officially or unofficially - perhaps there's more?), capturing Gene in one take as best they could before Clark's interest waned and effectively 'finishing off' what Gene gave them. They also instinctively understood what none of Gene's previous collaborators had - that however bright and optomistic he'd be in the evning, by night he was always in danger of falling back on old habits of drink and drugs; as a result they made a policy of recording in the early evening when Gene had had enough time to shake off the night before, but not yet time enough to reach a wasted peak again. The fact that these demos exist at all, after a decade in which Gene had only made one album and had to pad that out with re-recordings of past successes and cover songs, is in itself a miracle and a testament to Robinson and York's hard work in keeping Gene as on the straight and narrow as he'd been in years.
However sadly the miracle effectively ends there. The reputation of these tapes among fans had grown to the point where they were always going to sound disappointing and the fact that the highest profile Gene Clark release before this was the celebrated CD re-issue (at last!) of 'No Other' didn't help: the public were expecting another properly focussed and elaborately arranged timeless classic about the mysteries of life. Instead they got a poorly recorded selection of slimline demos that were very much of their time in the mid-80s, full of drum tracks and casio synthesisers. Few of these songs feature the distinctive Gene Clark writing style, many of them bordering on poor Elvis pastiches and seem remarkably straightforward for such a fascinating, multi-layered writer - Gene clearly still in the commercialised songwriting slump of 'Firebyrd' rather than back to his best. Worryingly, nothing here matched the strength of the album that did come out in it's place, the 'So Rebellious A Lover' album with Carla Olsen - a record that Clarkophiles assumed at the time was the 'marking time' set before this one was finally finished. Released to great fanfare and greeted as a long lost holy relic by fans, 'Under A Silvery Moon' was generally regarded as something of a disappointment, the sounds of a great man marking time rather than his last will and testament.
That said, when the shock of a 1980s lo-fi Gene began to wear off, there is still plenty to admire about this album. 'Nothing But An Angel' is a fascinating song, Clark angrily yelling at his lover 'why won't you listen? You're an angelm - I'm a fool, that's how our relationship works!' which tells you a great deal about Clark's inner psyche. 'More Than That' has Gene sweetly revealing that he loves his partner more than ever after all these years - even though they live apart. 'Sleep Will Retrun' is a song all my fellow insomniacs will identify with, Gene admitting that he can never sleep alone and claiming that even his musical career came from trying to fill that void. The pretty 'Immigrant Girl' has a slight sense of 'I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better' about it, with York aping McGuinn's Rickenbacker style . Finally, 'Rest Of Your Life' sounds like the closest to a 'classic' song here, even if the sound quality is the worst across the album, Gene kicking himself for letting his soul mate out of his life and all his years of painful searching for a replacement that he now knows is a dead end. Gene's vocal is a little too Elvis tribute act on this recording, but the melody and lyrics are strong and a 'proper' recording could have been the revelation of the decade for Gene. Alas the rest of the album isn't even  up to this low standard, including a horrendous slowed-down cover of Goffin and King's 'Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?' and the unfortunate choice of York song 'You Just Love Cocaine', sung by Gene just four years before his drug intake becomes a contibutory factor (though not the main cause, it must be stressed), is too sad to work: Gene effectively singing a warning to himself about what he has to give up to live life to the full again (there's a pleasing rock-wagger-inan-country-setting that's very York though and it might have worked well in different circumstances).
It should also be remembered that this album was never intended to be heard like this - and Gene would never have let his demos out in his lifetime. I'd love to know how much these tapes would have altered had Gene stayed around long enough to alter them and give his best, rather than merely guide vocals. After all, Clark changed his working style with seemingly ever project he ever did: 'White Light' for instance sounds near enough the same in demo form, while 'No Other' sounds quite quite different. It could be that this album would have turned out unrecognisable from the demos here (some of 'No Other' sounds pretty ordinary in demo form too) and that this album would have been an elaborate giant epic had Clark had his way. The fact that anything exists from Gene's lost decade is welcome and this album would certainly have been no worse than the lacklustre 'FireByrd', with a few touches of greatness that show that Gene was at least trying to stretch himself a little bit, if not all the time. The sad fact about this album is that we had to wait so long for it our expectations were raised through the roof: this isn't a last great final roll of the dice for Gene, it sounds like another dead-end. The only good news is that Gene Clark dead-ends still tended to be more interesting than most people's...

Chris Hillman "The Other Side"
(Soveriegn Artists, June 2005)
Eight Miles High/True Love/Drifting/The Other Side/Heaven Is My Home/Touch Me/The Wheel/True He's Gone/Heavenly Grace/It Doesn't Matter/Missing You/The Water Is Wide/I Know I Need You/Our Savior's Hands
"I've tasted the high, I've felt the low - the other side is where I want to go"
Hillman's last record at the time of writing - bookending an extraordinary 40 years which has taken in bluegrass, folk, rock, psychedelia, country, whatever the heck Manassas were, pop and bluegrass again - is described on the sleeve as 'songs to soothe the soul and uplift the mind'. It comes accompanied by a sleeve on which we see Hillman grinning his head off, a stark contrast to the serious chap spotted on the cover of most of his solo/Desert Rose Band/Rice Rice Hillman Pedersen albums. Thank goodness, then, that after all that turmoil - all those pages we've covered of songs about heartbreak loss and difficult times - that Hillman ends his career on a high, a 'rise' rather than a 'fall' where he sounds contented with his legacy and his lot in life. One possible reason for this is Hillman's gradual conversion to Christianity, following years of hanging around musicians who had the same beliefs (Al Perkins, Richie Furay, Roger McGuinn). Like Furay but unlike Roger (so far), Chris has chosen to put his faith fully into his music, with this album full of originals that aren't squarely religious songs (as per a lot of Richie's work) but are very much about God and faith, with gospel a new strand to Hillman's sound greadually threaded into the rest across this album.
'Heaven Is My Home' is a charming bluegrass-gospel hybrid, sung with more verve than we've heard of late, 'Our Savior's Hands' features Chris' own take about why God moved so slowly in his case and there's a nice reading of traditional song 'The Water Is Wide' that would have done Gram Parsons proud (Roger McGuinn also cut a similar version on his first solo album. However there is a feeling that in this new calm atmopshere everything is just a little bit too much the same - by and largew when you've heard one gospel-flavoured album you've heard them all and while this one is well done there's a feeling that after so many similar-sounding albums across the past 15 or so years this might have been a nice chance to do something different (the record is called 'The Other Side' after all!) Thank goodness, then, for the only two real rockers on the album, both acoustic re-makes of two sterling songs from Chris' back catalogue: a bluegrass 'Eight Miles High' (!) which sounds much like Roger McGuinn's folk arrangement but with added fiddles and less jazzy chord-slashing and Manassas' 'It Doesn't Matter' which sounds rather good when re-made as a bluegrass tune. In case you're wondering, Herb Pedersen is again along for the ride, adding some distinctive guitarwork and his lovely harmonies but doesn't get a co-billing on this album. Much of the album's sound comes from guest vocalist Jennifer Warnes, the first time Hillman had worked with a female voice since his 70s band, another twist on an old sound of which there are several across this record. Is 'The Other Side' an essential purchase? Not really - Hillman's new songs still fall short of his best and you only need to hear one song to 'get' the sound and feel of this album, which is more or less the same throughout. However, 'The Other Side' is a nice album to own, with the sunnier side of Hillman's nature coming to the fore and it's lovely to find him in a good place at long last. Perhaps 'the other side' ought to become 'the main side'?!

Roger McGuinn "The Folk Den Project"
(Appleseed Recordings,  November 2005)
CD One: Follow The Drinking Gourd/Mighty Day/Gypsy Rover/On Top Of Old Smokey/Easter Morn/Dink's Son/Boatman/Brandy Leave Me Alone/Banks Of The Ohio/12 Gates To The City/Ain't No Mo Cane On Da Brasis/We Wish You A Merry Christmas/All My Trials/Cindy/The Colorado Trail/Cumberland Mountain Bear Chase/Alabama Bound/Bring Me Water Sylvie/Go Tell Aunt Rhodie/Makes A Long Time Man Feel Bad/Spanish Is A Loving Tongue/Erie Canal/Springfield Mountain/Old Paint/Rubin Ranzo
CD Two: Silver Dagger/Oh Freedom/Railroad Bill/East Virginia/Coffee Grows On White Oak Trees/So Early In The Spring/Golden Vanity/Down By The Riverside/Buffalo Skinners/Waltzing Natilda/The Riddle Song/Virgin Mary/The Handsome Cabin Boy/Ezekeil Saw The Wheel/Heave Away/Oh Mary Don't You Weep/Red River Valley/Brisbane Ladies/Battle Hymn Of The Republic/Old Texas/Rock Island Line/Wagoner's Lad/Hole In The Bucket/Wild Goose/To Morrow
CD Three: James Alley Blues/The Cruel War/Wayfaring Stranger/Pushboat/America For Me/Old Riley/Finnigan's Wake/Pretty Salo/Catch The Greenland Whale/Drunken Sailor/Lost Jimmy Whalen/The First Noel/Get Along Little Doggies/Roddy McCorley/He's Got The Whole World In His Hands/Haul Away Joe/John The Revelator/Sail Away Lady/Delia's Gone/Spanish Ladies/Trouble In Mind/Wildwood Flower/Away In A Manger/The Cold Cold Coast Of Greenland/Salty Dog Blues
CD Four: Wanderin'/The Argonaut/Lily Of The West/Michael Rowed The Boat Ashore/Stewball/Let The Bullgine Run/The Gallows Pole/The John B's Sails/Willie Moore/St James Infirmary/Kilgary Mountain/The Twelve Days Of Christmas/Wild Mountain Thyme/New York Girls/Streets Of Laredo/Mary Had A Baby/House Of The Rising Sun/Greenland Whale Fisheries/Shenandoah/The Bonny Ship The Diamond/Sailor Lad/This Train/Liverpool Gals/Home On The Range/When The Saints Go Marching In
'Highlights' version ('22 Timeless Tracks') features additional song 'The Boll Weevil'
"My heart still tingling from the deep salt sea and our good ship longing to be free"
One of the facets of Roger McGuinn's character that's always fascinated me is his schizophrenic love of the 'old' (traditional songs, sea shanties, past traditions) and 'new' (anyone whose ever worked with McGuinn talks about his love of 'gadgets' and modern technology). How perfectly Roger, then, that McGuinn's big project of the 1990s was a series of recordings of 'traditional' folk songs , originally available only as 'downloads' from the website '' While everyone whose anyone - and a lot of people who aren't anybody - have a website these days (including Alan's Album Archives!) this project started back in 1995 - when the internet was still science fiction to most people! Roger started adding his recordings on the first day of every month , free to download to anyone with the technology alongside guitar chords and lyrics, and amazingly the project is still going all these years on (as far as I know, Roger hasn't missed a single one yet, collecting some 214 at the time of writing!**) The idea is to use 'new' ways to preserve 'old' material and make sure that songs in danger of being forgotten will never die - and it's a lot of fun too, with Roger able to show off his acting abilities by becoming a soldier one month, a groom on his wedding day the next and a 'Jolly Roger' pirate captain thereafter.Entertainingly, Roger has also tries to keep with the 'traditions' in the way he records these songs,m busking them at friends' houses, out on street corners or occasionally in random rooms in his house - to date none have been recorded in a 'proper' studio! It's the perfect platform for Roger's talents, allowing him the scope to do something 'useful', find some old friends and learn some new ones and makes good on the 'promise' of 1965 when McGuinn was the best folk interpretor in the business,handling Dylan originals and The Bible via Pete Seeger with style and grace. While Roger is going it alone musically - the odd guest role aside - he's also supported by the University of North Carolina, where the website is hosted and has the weight of a 'proper' educatuonal institution behind the project.It seems that after years of toying with punk, flirting with gospel and pulverising pop McGuinn is in a happy place at last, doing what he does best.
Inevitably these recordings had to come out on CD and to date we've had a 100-song box set released to mark the project's tenth anniversary (with 20 songs 'missing' from the website for anyone who wants to go and find them) and a 22 track 'highlights' set (which includes a 'bonus' track - a collaboration with Barry McGuire on 'The Boll Weevil', the pair The Mamas and Papas' called 'McGuinn and McGuire' in their song 'Creeque Alley' working together at last!) Roger received his first music award nomination for it, although sadly it was only nominated for the 'best traditional folk album' Grammy (he was robbed!) Inevitably with a set this size you're going to get a) bored and b) overwhelmed and the concept is best taken the way Roger originally intended: a new song every month or so rather than a hundred taken it all at once. In truth Roger's voice, accompanied by nothing more than an acoustic guitar and some very repetitive songs, can sound like purgatory when you're in the wrong mood. Quite often a lot of these songs have been covered to within an inch of their lives already, making something of a mockery of the 'preservation' idea behind the project (personally some songs, like the gormless 'Tom Dooley' 'Waltzing Matidla' 'He's Got The Whole World In His Hands' 'Stewball' and 'Go Tell Aunt Rhodie' deserved to die out anyway - few other sets I own contain five of my bottom ten songs ever in the same flipping place!!! Had Roger covered a Spice Girls song this list couldn't be more complete!) Some versions, like 'John The Revelator' are the worst things Roger has ever made (yep, even worse than 'McGuinn and Band'!) Roger's quite natural decision to record a Christmas carol every December also means that you get interrupted by a 'Chgristmas' song every so often too - while it makes sense to make the box set as chronological as possible, this is confusing when you're trying to listen to the set in, say, sunny July (any chance they can be put together next time at the end of a disc?) The occasional guest also detracts rather than adds to the experience
However, this is all nit-picking really: if you pick and choose your way carefully through the box (and the largely spot-on selection for the highlights CD) then the results are delightful. Rarely has Roger sounded more at home than on tracks like the following numerous highlights: faithful rendering of 'Fair Nottamun Town', a 'Delia's Gone' almost as intense as Johnny Cash's better known version, the blues-folk hybrid 'Alabama Bound' is a super version that few other musicians could have pulled off, there's a third AAA version of 'All My Trials that's up to The Searchers and Paul McCartney versions, a haunting 'So Early In The Spring' and even the deft daftness of 'Whiskey In The Jar' ('whack-fo-la daddy-o' to you too!)  is handled with aplomb. Not to mention two songs The Animals made their own: 'St James nfirmary' and of course 'The House Of The Rising Sun' (not for nothing were The Animals called The Byrds' main English rivals for a time, owing to their folk roots). Big Byrds fans will also love the chance to hear Roger record or re-record several songs from the band's past and many splintered off-spring bands: there's a pretty 'John Riley'  nd 'Wild Mountain Thyme'(both last heard on 'Fifth Dimension' (1966), and there's lots of Pete Seeger (for all fans wondering what another 'Turn! Turn! Turn!' might sound like!; sadly a new recording of 'Soldier's Joy/Black Mountain Rag' was recorded in this era but was left off the box set!) Anyone who was ever disappointed that The Byrds largely gave up on their folk sound after their second LP really needs to own the box set (and should, incidentally, look out for Pentangle's records which do much the same thing - preserving the old by making it sound like the new).
Of course this set isn't for everyone and is no substitute for another album of McGuinn originals. But 'The Folk Den Project' is a worthy attempt to try to assimilate hundreds of years of human culture into one box (condensing it into one hiughlights CD causes bigger problems mind...) and one for which McGuinn shpould be very proud. Hopefully one day there'll be a 'part two' as Roger now has another 125 odd recordings to choose from! (A salivating sample for you of what to expect, all free to download from the website: the gorgeous 'Black Is The Colour Of My True Love's Hair' 'I've Been Working On The Railroad' 'She'll Be Coming Round The Mountain' 'The Squirrel' 'Big Rock Candy Mountain' 'There's A Hole In My Buyket' 'Mary Had A Little Lamb' 'It Came Upon A Midnight Clear' 'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen' and new versions of 'Old Blue' 'Pretty Polly' and 'Oil In My Lamp'!)

Gram Parsons "The Complete Reprise Sessions" (2006)................
Gram Parsons "The Complete Reprise Sessions"
(Rhino, July 2006)
CD One: Still Feeling Blue/We'll Sweep Out The Ashes In The Morning/A Song For You/Streets Of Baltimore/She/That's All It Took/The New Soft Shoe/Kiss The Children/Cry One More Time/How Much I've Lied/Big Mouth Blues/Radio Promo/Interview: How Did You Meet Emmylou Harris?/Interview: The Story Behind 'A Song For You'/Interview: The Story Behind 'The New Soft Shoe'?/WBCN INterview/Love Hurts/Sin City
CD Two: Return Of The Greivous Angel/Hearts On Fire/I Can't Dance/Brass Buttons/$1000 Wedding/Cash On The Barrelhead-Hickory Wind/Love Hurts/Ooh Las Vegas/In My Hour Of Darkness/Return Of The Greivous Angel/Interview: Hickory Wind/Interview: Differences Between Country and Country Rock?
CD Three: She (Alternate Version)/That's All It Took (Alternate Version)/Still Feeling Blue (Alternate Version)/Kiss The Children (Alternate Version)/Streets Of Baltimore (Alternate Version)/We'll Sweep Out The Ashes In The Morning (Alternate Version)/The New Soft Shoe (Alternate Version)/Return Of The Greivous Angel (Alternate Version)/In My Hour Of Darkness (Alternate Version)/Ooh Las Vegas (Alternate Version)/I Can't Dance (Alternate Version)/Sleepless Nights (Alternate Version)/Love Hurts (Alternate Version)/Brass Buttons (Alternate Version)/Hickory Wind (Alternate Version)/Brand New Heartache/Sleepless Nights/The Angels Rejoiced Last Night
"By now you know the kind of man I am"
If you're the kind of fan who thinks too much is still not enough - then congratulations! (Alan's Album Archives is the book series born for you!) You're probably also rather partial to big box sets full of alternate takes that aren't that different and new mixes that feature an extra cough on the middle eight or something like that - in which case this Gram Parsons set is for you! Despite the fact that the two Gram Parsons albums sit together on one CD quite nicely, well inside the running time, hasn't stopped the collector's favourite label Rhino from turning those two records into a three-disc set despite the fact that actually very little in the vaults exist as outtakes (and the three songs that were intended for 'Greivous Angel' but demoted by Gram's widow had already come out a couple of compilations back, with no other new songs here).
However if you have the time, money and patience to sit through this set then you are heavily rewarded, with several subtly different takes that haven't even appeared on bootleg and extracts from a long rambling but occasionally fascinating interview  with station WCBN that hadn't been heard since 1972. There's much to enjoy: a rough demo of 'Love Hurts' where Gram and Emmylou are still trying to work their harmonies out, a sketchy alternate take of the delightful 'She', a first pass at 'Kiss The Children' with guest Barry Tashian singing harmonies throughout (and confusing the hell out of Parsons in the process) plusthe best 'new' thing here, a fascinating rehearsal of Flying Burritos classic 'Sin City' - presumably intended for the road rather than the album, although Gram did have a habit oef re-making old songs that meant something to him - with Emmylou adding a nice harmony part in place of Hillman (the song is also taken slower and if anything even more ;ciuntry' than the original). However the highlights are rather far and few between for the money this set costs and you don't really learn anything 'new' here - except that Parsons arguably had a good knack for choosing the best take of eachsong for the album. The result is undeniably heavy going for all but the keenest Parsons fans and there's nothing here to compete with the excitement of the all-new 'Lost Recordings' released in 2000. However if you're especially fond of Gram and/or desperately want to own his two solo albums without having bought them already then you could do a lot worse than buy this set; be warned though if you're buying this set purely for the extras that sometimes paring a character like Parsons down to the bare-bones is the way to go, not releasing everything that has his name on it.

"There Is A Season" (Box Set #2)
(Columbia/Legacy, September 2006)
Disc One: The Only Girl I Adore/Please Let Me Love You/Don't Be Long/The Airport Song/You Movin'/ You Showed Me/Mr Tambourine Man/I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better/You Won't Have To Cry/Here Without You/The Bells Of Rhymney/All I Really Want To Do/I Knew I'd Want You/Chimes Of Freedom/She Has A Way/It's All Over Now Baby Blue/Turn! Turn! Turn!/It Won't Be Wrong/Set You Free This Time/The World Turns All Around Her/The Day Walk (Never Before)/If You're Gone/The Times They SAre A Changin'/She Don't Care About Time/Strangers In A Strange Land
Disc Two: Eight Miles High/Why?/5D (Fifth Dimension)/Wild Mountain Thyme/Mr Spaceman/ I See You/What's Happening?!?!?/I Know My Rider/So You Want To Be A Rock and Roll Star?/Have You Seen Her Face?/Renaissance Fair/Time Between/Everybody Has Been Burned/My Back Pages/It Happens Each Day/He Was A Friend Of Mine/Lady Friend/Old John Robertson/Goin' Back/Draft Morning/Wasn't Born To Follow/Tribal Gathering/Dolphin's Smile/Triad/Universal Mind Decoder
Disc Three: You Ain't Goin' Nowhere/I Am A Pilgrim/The Christian Life/You Don't Miss Your Water/Hickory Wind/One Hundred Years From Now/Lazy Days/Pretty Polly/This Wheel's On Fire/Drug Store Truck Driving Man/Candy/Child Of The Universe/Pretty Boy Floyd/Buckaroo/ King Apathy III/Sing Me Back Home/Lay Lady Lay/Oil In My Lamp/Tulsa County Blue/Jesus Is Just Alright/Chestnut Mare/Just A Season/Kathleen's Song/All The Things
Disc Four: Lover Of The Bayou/Positively 4th Street/Old Blue/It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Dying)/Ballad Of Easy Rider/You All Look Alike/Nashville West/Willin'/Black Mountain Rag/Baby What You Want Me To Do?/ I Trust/Take A Whiff On Me/Glory Glory/Byrdgrass/Pale Blue/I Wanna Grow Up To Be A Politician/Nothin' To It/Tiffany Queen/Farther Along/Bugler/ Mr Tambourine Man/Roll Over Beethoven/Full Circle/Changing Heart/Paths Of Victory
"Somehow I know everything is gonna work out alright!"
By now the original Byrds box set was sixteen years old. Rather than simply re-release it in diffierent packaging (as so many of The Byrds' contemporaries had done), Columbia sensibly decided to revise it completely. Thankfully they put most of the complaints with the first set right: this really is a comprehensive history of the band, with Gene Clark prominent on the first disc, Crosby resplendent on ther second and Gram Parsons a key figure on the third, with the fourth a much more democractic mixture of highlights from the last four Byrds album. The packaging could have been better (the booklet was so firmly attached to the CD boxes it was hard to read up to the spine) and contained less information and photographs than even the 1990 set, but even this was a more democractic affair, reading like a mini-book from multiple points of view rather than a McGuinn history of the band with glowing terms from famous fans as before. Even the title was clever: 'There Is A Season' reflecting both a lyric of 'Turn! Turn! Turn!' and McGuinn's own 'Just A Season', with the idea that all the twists and turns of The Byrds' career were inevitable, seasonal changes within the same brightly coloured world of Byrds.
Of course, there's one major difference that means this set was greeted with quite the same hysterics as the first set. By 2006 The Byrds are one of the most catalogued and re-released band on the planet, with a series of excellent CD re-issues in the 1990s and even some 'deluxe' sets in the 2000s, not to mention three entire goes at releasing thwe band's 1964 'Preflyte' material. The best thing this set can find in terms of unissued recordings are some variable live tracks - a gorgeous 'He Was A Friend Of Mine' from 1967, a 1969 'Dr Byrds' era set that varies within the same song (including the unreleased 'Buckaroo' and a snarling 'King Apathy III') more from the ragged 1970 line-up on lesser form than on 'Untitled' and the 'Unissued' mini-concert. There's just one unreleased studio track, the country instrumental 'Nothin' To It' from 'Byrdmaniax' era, which is fun if a little inconsequential(which is at least more than can be said for the album, which is largely heavy going and inconsequential!) Thankfully some hard-to-find rarities are senisbly included that even big fans won't have heard: three songs from the 'Banjoman' soundtrack near the end of the Byrds' lifespan in early 1973 (including an alternate version of 'Nashville West' for the title track, the earliest version of 'Mr Tambourine Man' with the missing verses The Byrds cut from the single and an even weaker version of Chuck Berry's 'Roll Over Beethoven' than the 1966 version from the first set!) and the film soundtrack version of 'Child Of The Universe' from the 'Candy' film soundtrack, complete with added orchestra and slightly different vocals.
What you think of this set will no doubt depend on what you want a Byrds box set to be. For collectors the first set was much more interesting, containing more unheard Byrds in one go than any era since 1973 - even if most of these songs then got re-used on better sets. However as a compendium of a band's life, a rich tapestry with genuinely the best (or near best) songs from each and every era allowed through with a very fair and democratic selecton of tracks by almost all band members (well, apart from poor Gene Parsons who still can't get highlight 'Gunga Din' onto a compilation!) Amazingly there's very little replication in the track listing this time around - impressive for two full box sets - although most of the hits are there in both.The track listing for  'There Is A Season' trumps that box in every way though, with stronger songs, greater recordings (including two songs from the 1973 reunion set loaned from Asylum - the right two as well!) and only the dodgy substitution of some of the 'Untitled' outtakes for the proper thing getting in the way. If you're a newcomer to The Byrds legacy then this is a nice place to start, while faintly curious fans who only know the band from best-ofs will find many new gems to cherish and old collectors will be able to hear some old friends in terrific sound at long last, the way they were meant to be heard. With the last set it seemed as if everybody lost - but on this set everybody wins! All I will say is that The Byrds might release an even better box set in another sixteen years or so, containing the absolute best of The Byrds and combining the best from the two sets. Until then, however, 'There Is A Season' is a set made with a lot of care, love and understanding, The Byrds' legacy finally given the justice it deserves.

"The Columbia Singles '65 - '67"
 (Sundazed, 2007)
Mr Tambourine Man/I Knew I'd Want You/All I Really Want To Do/I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better/The Bells Of Rhymney/Chimes Of Freedom/She Don't Care About Time (Alternate Mix)//It's All Over Now Baby Blue/The Times They Are A-Changin'/Turn! Turn! Turn!/She Don't Care About Time/Set You Free This Time/It Won't Be Wrong/He Was A Friend Of Mine/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/My Back Pages/Renaissance Fair/Have You Seen Her Face?/Don't Make Waves/Lady Friend/Old John Robertson/Goin' Back/Change Is Now
"I was so much older then - I'm younger than that now"
Effectively a CD release for ther first three sides of the 1980/81 sets dedicated to The Byrds' first A and B sides, this set is another excellent purchase for anyone whose merely interested in the David Crosby era of The Byrds as it ends rather neatly with his last album 'The Notorious Byrd Brothers'. Once again, the fact that this compilation includes the rarer flipsides as well as the hits means that Columbia can effecticely have their cake and eat it: fans get all the songs they'd expect here (though not the later period 'Chestnut Mare' or the Gram Parsons stuff, obviously), along with a sort of parallel universe of rarer Byrds tracks. Most of these are excellent and easily as good as the better known songs: the superior earlier version of 'Why?' , Crosby's gorgeous 'Everybody Has Been Burned' and Hillman's exquisite 'Change Is Now' among them. Along the way therew's a few rarities that if not unique to this set then are at least rare: the B-side only 'She Don't Care About Time' (in two separate not-that-different mixes!), the A-side only 'Lady Friend' and - bizarrely - the outtake 'fast' version of 'It's All Over Now Baby Blue' (on the grounds that it was planned as a single before being cancelled!) Quite avtreasure trove of delights, although it's a shame that Columbia didn't follow through with a second volume or make this a two-disc set, thus gathering up all of The Byrds' A and B sides from their whole career.

McGuinn, Clark and Hillman "The Capitol Collection"
(Capitol,  January 2008)
CD One: Long Long Time/Little Mama/Don't Write Her Off/Surrender To Me/Backstage Pass/Stopping Traffic/Feelin' Higher/Sad Boy/Release Me Girl/Bye Bye Baby/Who Taught The Night?/One More Chance/Won't Let You Down/Street Talk/City
CD Two: Skate Date/Givin' Herself Away/Deeper In/Painted Fire/Let Me Down Easy/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/Making Movies/Surrender To Me/Little Girl/I Love Her
"Every day is a holiday - but there's a price to pay for giving your mind away"
A handy way of tracking down three increaswingly rare albums in one go, the oddly titled 'Capitol Collection' (it's not as if the trio lasted long enough to sign with another record label!) is a case of lovely packaging - but sometimes a shame about the music. We've reviewed the three M/C/H albums already, of course, and are all actually slightly better than reputation allows, if not up to The Byrds of any era (if you can lower your sights to the point where a decent pop song, rather than a groundbreaking experiment, is enough then there's still much to enjoy though). The first album is slick but likeable, with Clark on top form, 'City' comes with a nicer harder-edged and finds McGuinn back somewhere close to his best, while final album 'McGuinn/Hillman' suffers from too many covers but features some excellent soulful vocals from Chris. All three are flawed, with some awful late 1970s production that takes away not only the raw edges but a lot of the character as well and the trio rarely back each other up, instead keeping to their own particular songs and are even less likely to play across this album (which desperately needs Clark's folk lilt, Hillman's sturdy bass or McGuinn's twinkly Rickenbacker to shine through).
The added bonus of getting this set is the presence of four extra tracks at the end, all of which are among the better tracks on the set and free of which are presented here for the first time. 'Making Movies' is the sweet flipside to last single 'Turn Your Radio On' and while not quite up to the A-side is amongst the better songs on that last album, not the worst. A lovely demo of 'Surrender To Me' beats even the finished product, the rougher sound only adding to the true feelings of this lovely cover song with Chrid Hillman vocal and the emotion partly removed by the studio production. 'Little Girl' and 'I Love Her' are both acoustic Gene Clark songs, possibly intended for second album 'City' but abandoned when Clark left the project and both would have been amongst the album highlights, achingly honest and intense even by Gene's standards. The result is the best single way that Capitol could have re-issued these albums - all together, with extras, at a relatively decent price and clearly made with love and care. It's just a shame that, back in 1979-81, the same care wasn't always shown by the band and their production team or this mini-reunion could have more fondly remembered.

Stephen Stills/Manassas (Featuring Chris Hillman): "Pieces"
(Rhino,  September 2009)
(Review first published as part of 'News, Views and Music Issue #52' on January 22nd 2010)
Witching Hour/Sugar Babe/Lies*/My Love Is A Gentle Thing/Like A Fox/Word Game/Tan Sola Y Triste/Fit To Be Tied/Love And Satisfy*/High and Dry/Panhandle Rag/Uncle Pen/Do You Remember The Americans?/Dim Lights Thick Smoke And Loud Loud Music/I Am My Brother
* = Chris Hillman composition
"That old train is gonna move me down the line" or "Curly Hillman on banjo!"
Back in 2009 when our website was still young, back in them dim and dusty forgotten days when Obama was still respected, Russia was still an ally of the West and e-bola was still just an award you got for knocking down the most ten pin bowls on an online game, Manassas outtakes set 'Pieces' became one of the first full AAA albums we reviewed. To be honest the release took me a bit by surprise: the band had only lasted two albums and yet Rhino were issuing an album longer in length than The Byrds' own outtakes set. After all it's not as if Manassas were known for their outtakes. There was a handful from the second album 'Down The Road, booted off to make room for more Stephen Stills compositions, but even most of those aren't here (the exception being an album highlight of Chris Hillman's excellent 'Love And Satisfy', which sounds even more powerful here than in it's released form on the first Souther-Hillman-Furay LP). Disappointingly most of this set turned out to be taped at rehearsals, with a bored Manassas rambling their way through both Stills' old solo set in preparation of a tour and letting off steam with a bunch of country oldies Flying Burritos-style. The end result
First instincts are that this set is going to be good. The packaging is excellent, right up there with how Rhino releases used to be a few years ago, with stunning unpublished photographs, a band history that contains even more superlatives about the band than this website does and a track-by-track guide that's generally informative, if short. The track-listing is salivating too: no less than 15 songs, only four of which are familiar via Stills or Manassas albums, leaving 12 unheard additions to the band’s canon. Alas, most of these songs are fragments and nothing more, with an average running time for the whole set of just two minutes apiece. Two of them are really anonymous country covers that should have stayed in the vaults. And many of the songs that have curious new titles are the ones we know and love already but in somewhat different (admittedly sometimes very different) arrangements: ‘Tan Sola Y Triste’ is an early instrumental backing for ‘Pensamiento’ that gets looped for the final version, while ‘Fit To Be Tied’ is an early version of the 1975 ‘Stills’ LP’s worst song ‘Shuffle Just As Bad’. Too many of these songs are clearly below par, a tired band working up an old song to see how it sounds rather than playing them properly, with even gems like 'Sugar Babe' and the wonderful 'Word Game' (both originally from the under-rated set 'Stephen Stills II' of 1971) sounding woefuly average here. The real frustration with this set is that we know there’s so much more in the vaults: there’s a good half dozen tracks from ‘Down The Road’ still awaiting release, never mind all the many alternate versions of songs from ‘Manassas’ that are rumoured to exist and a startling first draft of what wil;l become knock-out CSN song 'Daylight Again', complete with verse after verse about the American Civil War (while performed on a BBC TV show which sadly doesn't exist, thank goodness the soundtrack does - and it ,may well be the highlight of CSNY's large collection of unreleased recordings).  Compared to this a handful of fragments and two studio warm-ups of old Stills songs prior to the band going out on tour seems ridiculously stingy.
But there is good stuff here - and lots of it. Stills might be fading but he's still just about hanging on to the end of his ‘golden period’ which stretched right back from 1968 and even his self-admitted (in the sleeve-notes) throwaways on this record have a panache and a sparkle that practically all his songs in this halcyon period contain. 'Witching Hour' - the Stills song Hillman returned to for his first solo album 'Slippin' Away' (1976) sounds even more remarkable with it's writer on lead, pouring out his heart on a song about his fragility and easily punctured shell. 'Like A Fox' is a fun first draft for what could have been a killer pop song that never got finished, complete with Bonnie Raitt on guest vocals. The finale 'I Am My Brother' - a largely improvised bluesy lament a la 'Bluesman' is startling, a testament to how creative Stills can be even when he's simply messing around.
We also get lots of Chris Hillman on this record, something which is more than overdue and reminds you again just what an intrinsic part of this band the guitarist was. In addition to a slightly looser take of 'Love and Satisfy' we get a fascinating slower rendition of 'Lies', one of the highlights from the 'Down The Road' record. This is clearly an early take before Manassas have quite got to grips with the song and is no substitute for it, but is intriguing to hear for how different it could have bee with a rockier, less country attack and Hillman singing alone more or less throughout. Hillman also takes the lead on the two-song country medley near the end of the album, a curious jam across the songs 'Panhandle Rag' and 'Uncle Penn'. Both songs are instrumentals with Stills on guitar, Hillman on mandolin and Byron Berline on fiddle, plus leads vocals on the latter song. It's nice to have a copy of this furiously played country medley, so often played by Manassas in concert in 1973 (with Berline clearly knocked out by Hillman's playing as he announces him to the recording mike as his friend 'Curly Hillman!') but in truth it's not up to the similar performances given by The Flying Burrito Brothers and evn those aren't exactly yhe highlights of my collection. Finally, Hillman also takes lead on the Joe Maphis country tune 'Dim Lights, Thick Music and Loud Loud Music', performed though not recorded by The Flying Burrito Brothers and better known from Gram Parsons' solo version. It's tentative and raw and a bit old hat, to be honest, another lost opportunity on an outtakes set that could have offered so much more.
Overall I was disappointed by 'Pieces', which sounds like exactly that - fragments cut off from one great and one average album from a band who released most of their best stuff anyway. There are just too many throwaways or rehearsal takes or unfinished fragments to make this a satisfying or rounded listening experience. Far better would have been to have saved the best tracks, like ‘Witching Hour’, ‘Like A Fox’ and ‘I Am My Brother’ and added them to a CD release of the forgotten ‘Stolen Stills’ set, the general set of outtakes from all of Stills’ 70s albums that was being talked about as a follow-up to 1976’s ‘Illegal Stills’ and a few times thereafter. Package it up with some of the Jimi Hendrix/Stills collaborations (‘White Nigger’, the closest to a finished track, has been due for release by the Hendrix estate for a couple of years now and has leaked out on youtube) and the songs that Stills was working on in the late 80s before throwing in his lot with CSN for the ‘Live It Up’ album and you have the potential for the best CSN-anything album in 20 years. Instead what we’ve got is another record company compromise and, good as it is and excellent as sections of it remain, both Stills and Manassas deserve far more than that. Still, three valid additions to the Stills canon and two alternate takes to add to Hillman's are particularly welcome and I’d rather hear Stills on a poor day than most people on a good day. It does make you think, though, what else are Atlantic hiding in their vaults, waiting to be released by Rhino? And are they saving these gems for a Stephen Stills retrospective equally to the Crosby and Nash ones? Let’s hope so because the good stuff here really does give cause for a celebration if they do ... (Editor's Note From The Future: Well, sort of - see our take on the Stephen Stills retrospective 'Carry On' which came out in 2013, which is indeed chock-full of rarities but seems particularly skimpy on the 'Manassas' years and doesn't even include the great 'Witching Hour', huh!)

John York "Arigatou Baby"
(Global Recording Artists,  February 2010)
Jealous Gun/Roadside Cross/I can't Find The Moon/She Likes To Shine My Shoes/One Step From Homeless/Angel Dance/Tuesday's Train/We Came For Love/I Know I Will See You/Lady Of The Highway/I Want To Go Now/Never Doubt My Love/Down In That Hole/Dandelion/Gypsy Life
"I'll take the time to think about things I've done, I know now you've always been the one"
Poor John York never quite got the credit he deserved, effectively joining the 'wrong' band for his talents with the older, more hardened road veterans the 1969-mark Byrds and till now his solo releases have been a collaboratiuon with fellow Byrds bassist Skip Battin and a CD that came free with a pack of tarot cards. 'Arigatou Baby' is a more serious play at a solo album and is deeply enjoyable, without ever quite hitting the bery highest of Byrds heights. York's voice has deepened with age from his work on 'Fido' and 'Tulsa County Blue' and sounds deeply good here - a kind of folkie Bryan Adams if you will. While this album features a typically traditionally Byrdsy mix of rock, pop, folk and country it's the acoustic songs that work the best, suiting York's haunting delivery of some excellent new songs. 'Roadside Cross' is an album highlight, using some very Byrds-like imagery of life as a series of pathways (perhaps he'd been using the 'sacred path cards' from that tarot set to write it?), while 'I Can't Find My Moon' somehow manages to unite Roger McGuinn's singing style with a Gene Clark song about losing inspiration. Gene himself would have been produ of 'One Step Away From Homeless', a moving reflection of lost opportunities that demonstrate how much these two old friends had in common (York's work with Gene in the last few years of his life are much more his natural style than what The Byrds were doing in his era). 'Tuesday's Train' may also have been written as a sort of sequel to Byrds classic 'Yesterday's Train', although it's clearly about Gene and York trying to live up to the catalogue his old buddy left behind (the same goes for 'I KNow I Will See You', which comes with lots of 'Eight Miles High' style guitar). With fifteen original songs this is also excelent value for money and only the repetitive 'unplugged' feel of the record really lets it down (this is too obviously at times a record made on the cheap - although that's not York's fault). Al in all one of the better 'lost' Byrds solo albums on this list which can more than hold it's head high with the McGuinn, Hillman and even Gram parsons albums out there, well thought out, nicely played and sung and clearly the product of a talented musician. All York needs is a sequel, preferably with a full band behind him and he could yet become one of the public's favourite Byrds.

"Eight Miles High: The Best Of The Byrds"
(Columbia,  'Mid' 2010)
Mr Tambourine Man/Turn! Turn! Turn!/Eight Miles High/I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better/Wasn't Born To Follow/Spanish Harlem Incident/So You Want To Be A Rock and Roll Star?/All I Really Wanna Do/The Ballad Of Easy Rider/Mr Spaceman/One Hundred Years From Now/He Was A Friend Of Mine/Wild Mountain Thyme/Hickory Wind/Goin' Back/Chestnut Mare
"If you will not go with me, you will surely find another"
No doubt there'll be another twenty released by the time these books get published, but as I write 'Eight Miles High' is the most recent Byrds compilation out in the shops. It's a pretty decent stab at trying to sum up everything Byrdsy in one go and offers a nice range of the hits (though 'You Ain't Goin' Nowhere' is comspicuous by its absence) and rarer material (although this set is rather dismissive of the post-Crosby line-up and reduces the Gram Parsons and Gene Parsons era to two songs apiece). There are some oddities here too: are 'Wild Mountain Thyme' and 'Goin' Back' really the bnest of The Byrds? Once again, the set seems to have been compiled at random, with no thought given to chronological order, so that in the first half a dozen tracks alone we start in 1965, leap forward to 1966, jerk back to 1965, zoom forward to 1968 and then back to 1965 (why bother? These songs don't run together very well at all, whereas at least the line-up would make sense if all the Gene Clark era tracks weere together). The strength, though is the packaging: of all the compilation Byrds covers I've seen this is about the best, with a 'phased' negative image cover of the 'original quartet' circa 1966 that's very effective. All in all, not the best Byrds compilation out there - but certainly not the worst.

Chris Hillman and Herb Pedersen "At Edward's Barn"
(Rounder, March 2011)
Going Up Home/Love Reunited/Turn! Turn! Turn!/If I Could Only Win Your Love/Tu Cancion/Our Savior's Hands/Wheels/Have You Seen Her Face?/Eight Miles High/Together Again/Desert Rose/Sin City/The Cowboy Way/Wait A Minute/Heaven's Lullaby
"Timeless and still in a Heaven's lullaby"
'Haha', I thought to myself when this CD came out, 'clever title for a live album!' You see there's always been that thing about country icons from the little old West staying at home a-singing' their hearts out in barns, good old farmers who came to their music when they were a-picking up the corn from the good ol' honest soil. That seems to go double for country-rockers for some reason, perhaps because they're more desperate to sound like the real thing. But no - this live album really was recorded in a 'barn'! What's more it was released as that old country-rock stand by: the fundraiser, but were the pair trying to solve the hunger of the third world or protest about nuclear misiles the way a full-on rock band would? Nope - they released it to raise much-needed funds for the local church! That low key feeling of singing to the faithful few rather than a big crowd comes over loud and clear on this cosy little album, which features very relaxed performances of all sorts of songs from the pair's background  in the Desert Rose Band years, plus three Byrds songs and two Burritos numbers. It's interesting what Hillman chooses to play, opting for his own countryfied favourite 'Have You Seen Her Face?' (heard here as a fully acoustic number with fiddle accomaniment) plus two of the band's bigger hits 'Turn! Turn! Turn!' and 'Eight Miles High' rarely tackled by Chris in his solo work before (in fact never in the case of the former!) 'Turn!' sounds respectably suited to the country setting, although hearing a sleepy 'Eight Miles High' with none of the usual fire and with violinist David Masnfield filling in for Roger McGuinn's guitar breaks is a rather strange experience. 'Sin City' and a surprise 'Wheels' from 'The Gilded Palace Of Sin' fare a little better, sounding warmer with Hillman's more honest delivery than Parsons' occasionally arch vocals, although neither comes close to matching the original. Hillman sounds more at home with his past than he has in years, though, with some revealing patter to the crowd about how much he 'loved' his old band and how 'thrilled' he was when Crosby 'allowed' him centre-stage for the first time! The highlight, though, may well be a new bluegrass/country orginal by Hillman named 'Tu Cancion' ('Your Song' in Spanish) which bodes well if Hillman ever makes another studio LP. Overall far from essential and rather lacking in energy, but proof of just what a talent Hillman is and what a classic songbook he has to draw from. One hopes the church did rather well out of the CD and perhaps has a 'stained glass window' dedicated to The Byrds somewhere in its refurbishment! (Clue: don't put saint Crosby next to Father McGuinn or you'll get splintered glass everywhere!)

"The Lost Broadcasts" (CD and DVD)
(Gonzo, Recorded 1971/1972, Released September 2011)
Black Mountain Rag/Chestnut Mare/So You Want To Be A Rock and Roll Star?/Eight Miles High/Black Mountain Rag #2/Soldier's Joy/Soldier's Joy #2/So You Want To Be A Rock and Roll Star? #2/Chestnut Mare #2/Mr Tambourine Man/Eight Miles High #2
"Just get an electric guitar, take some time, learn how to play!"
Released as a CD/DVD set, this is the Byrds near the end of their natural life in 1972 appearing on a German TV network and playing rocky but ragged versions of some of their biggest hits. Virtually a last hurrah for the band's most stable line-up 9shortly before Gene Parsons got his marching orders) it shows off a band who have by now said everything they needed to say and are now going through the motions, only really enthusiastic when playing the fast-paced traditional country tunes 'Black Mountain Rag' and 'Soldier's Joy'. Amazingly the 'soundcheck'/'camera rehearsal' of these performances have survived the years intact too - kudos to the German TV networks for keeping on to the full tapes when so many other stations (i'm looking at you, BBC!) threw out even the finished versions of their important tapes. The soundcheck is better actually, without the distracting background 'video' that tries to feature all sorts of groovy light show effects while the band are playing (highly suited to the trippy 'Eight Miles High' - similar to but shorter and  not a patch on the 20 minute 'freakout' version on 'Untitled' - but less fitting to the pretty 'Chestnut Mare' and a singalong 'Mr Tambourine Man'). The result is nice to have after all these years and particularly welcome given how little televised footage of The Byrds in any era there currently is to buy out there. However it's far from The Byrds at their best and the CD version particularly has been superceded by far better concerts from the same period with almost the same set lists.

Clarence White "White Lightnin'"
(Sierra,  January 2013)
No Title Yet Blues/Tough 'n' Stringy/Tango For A Sad Mood/Buckaroo/Tuff 'n' Stringy #2/Yesterday's Train/Sally Goodin Meets The Byrds/Oakridge Tennessee/Louisiana Redbone/Birmingham/Free Born Man/Dear Landlord/Cuckoo Born/From Eden To Canaan/I'm On My Way Again
"An acquaintance from Yesterday's Train"
Record label Sierra continue their god job delivering unreleased or unfinished Byrds albums, although sadly the series is beginning to wear itself a bit thin here. Tragically, Clarence never did get a chance to make the solo album he had loosely planned after The Byrds collapsed so instead Sierra chose to compile a long list of session work and live gigs featuring Clarence as a member of Nashville West and The Byrds, alongside available but obscure performances by the likes of The Evertly Brothers, Joe Cocker and Freddy Weller. The result is rather uneven (Clarence rarely gets a chance to shine as a backup man and at times you'd struggle to tell it was him playing if the sleeve hadn't told you) and it's a shame room couldn't be made for even more of Clarence's great work, including his brilliant feedback squeal on The Monkees' 'Steam Engine' (originally unreleased but out on 'Missing Links Three' in 1997 and various CDs since then) and The Byrds' own 'Time Between' from 'Younger Than Yesterday'. Still, this CD is worth owning just for the one line known Nashville West studio recording 'Tuff 'n' Stringy' (not that great in itself, but a fascinating curio as Clarence's first real studio recording)  and a gorgeous outtake of 'Yesterday's Train' (an odd choice, given how little Clarence gets to do on Gene and Skip's joint song, but it's an unsung classic so I'm not complaining!), plus a semi-revealing interview from the 'Untitled' period. Not essential then and you don't really learn much about Clarence you didn't already know, but there's long been a Clarence White-sized hole on our CD shelves and it's nice to have it filled by something at last.

Gene Clark "Here Tonight - The White Light Demos"
(**,  March 2013)
White Light/Here Tonight/For No One/For A Spanish Guitar/Please Mr Freud//Jimmy Christ/Where My Love Lies Asleep/The Virgin/Opening Day/Winter In/Because Of You/Winter In
"The mysterious estate lies waiting for it's history dawning page"
The demos of 'No Other' sensibly included on the long awaited CD release in 2003 sent critics off into peals of rapture: even without the elaborate orchestrations and multi-layered imagery Gene's intelligence and vision shone through (personally I like most of the demos on that album better than the record itself). Feeling they were onto a winner here, Gene Clark's repertoire was raided for more in the way of unreleased demos and as his next most rounded and most popular LP 'White Light' was an obvious next stopping place. Except that, as a largely acoustic album in the first place, there's nothing all that different about the versions of the songs included here. What's more the most interesting material (the unused songs 'Because Of You' 'Opening Day' and 'Winter In' had already appeared on the Universal re-issue of the album in 2002. Oops! What this means is that you're basically forking out the price of a full CD for three identical recordings, six nearly identical recordings (none of the demos of the album songs adds anytying really) and just three new releases, each nice to have but far from Gene's best. 'For No One' is a moody folky instrumental with some lovely harmonica playing and some nice Jesse Ed Davis guitar but you can see why it didn't make the album, being less developed than many of the other songs here. 'Please Mr Freud' sounds like it could have made the album, full of Dylan-style wordplay and a typically dense lyric about trying to get in touch with how you acted in the past, but it was arguably right to have been dropped from the album's running order in favour of the better songs that made the cut. As for 'Jimmy Christ' this is unusually straightfroward for Gene with a sinaglong melody and lots of rhymes for 'real' 'deal' conceal' 'heal' etc as Gene presents himself to us as a similarly sacrificial victim, misunderstood in his own time. With work this song could have really been something, but isn't worth much as it stands. All in all this is less like the white light of 'inspiration' than the deep dark bottom of a barrel being scraped and is by far the weakest product with Gene's name attached to it released to date.

A Now Complete Link Of Byrd Articles Available To Read At Alan’s Album Archives:

'Mr Tambourine Man' (1965)
‘Turn! Turn! Turn!’ (1965)

'(5D) Fifth Dimension' (1966)

'Younger Than Yesterday' (1967)

'The Nototious Byrd Brothers' (1968)

'Sweethearts Of The Rodeo' (1968)

'Dr Byrds and Mr Hyde' (1969)

‘The Ballad Of Easy Rider’ (1969)

'Untitled' (1970)
'Byrdmaniax' (1971)
'The Byrds' (1973)

Surviving TV Appearances
Unreleased Songs
Non-Album Songs (1964-1990)
A Guide To Pre-Fame Byrds Recordings
Solo/Live/Compilation Albums Part One (1964-1972)
Solo/Live/Compilation Albums Part Two (1973-1977)

Solo/Live/Compilation Albums Part Three (1978-1991)
Solo/Live/Compilation Albums Part Four (1992-2013)
Essay: Why This Band Were Made For Turn! Turn! Turn!ing
Five Landmark Concerts and Three Key Cover Versions