Monday 2 March 2015

Grateful Dead "Blues For Allah" (1975)

'High Time - The Alan's Album Archives Guide To The Music Of The Grateful Dead' is available to buy now by clicking here!

"Je Suis En Cosmic Charlie"

Grateful Dead "Blues For Allah" (1975)

Help On The Way > Slipknot! > Franklin's Tower/King Solomon's Marbles (Stronger Than Dirt > Milkin' The Turkey)/The Music Never Stopped//Crazy Fingers/Sage and Spirit/Blues Fort Allah (Sand Castles and Glass Camels > Unusual Occurrences In The Desert)

"You plant ice, you're gonna harvest wind" or "What good is spilling blood? It will not grow a thing, know the truth must still lie somewhere in between" or "The ships of state sail on mirage and drown in sand" or "Did you hear what I just heard? The music never stopped"

Once again I'm left feeling rather alarmed by how poignant my pre-prepared choice of album review is. As you may know, dear reader, I'm running a few weeks ahead of myself - very handy for a) the weeks when I'm too poorly to work and b) when I suddenly remember something I meant to add to a review I wrote weeks ago. It's come in very handy down the years I can tell you. I sit down to write this review having just witnessed the harrowing week of the French shootings and about an hour after witnessing the thousands-strong march across France by several members of the public, heads of state, patrons of honour, special guests, the world's top politicians - oh and David Cameron. I don't know how this sad story will truly end, I doubt in fact that it will ever have an end by the time this article goes to print in a couple of months' time and I don't know what major shift in world politics this will have. What I do know is that the Grateful Dead saw it all in 1975 judging by the contents of this Muslim-influenced album and it's eerie desperate cried for world peace. And by co-incidence I'd picked out just this album - the most suitable piece in my whole collection - a week ago, three days before the shootings (an obvious choice: I'm just about to start work on my Grateful Dead book proper after a fortnight of Dire Straits and I didn't fancy sitting through 'Shakedown Street', the other Dead record I've got left to cover).  At least twice I've sat down to write this review down the eight-years-this-Easter this site has been running and in that time I've lost this CD once (not that unusual either, but it did delay my plans that week) and woken up with 'Go To Heaven' going round my head the other (so that album naturally took precedence). To be honest I'm getting rather scared now because this keeps happening - a perfect example of what the Dead used to call synchronicity.
The reason 'Blues For Allah' is partly so apt because it is, from the title down, a predominantly Muslim record (the only AAA one until Cat Stevens turns into Yusuf on 'An Other Cup') - and yet it's subject matter is more world than local politics. The scenery isn't Americana, cowboys, convicts and 'wharf rats' - it's sand, deserts, camels and Arabian Winds, which is unusual to say the least. However much more than this, the album also happens to be a eulogy for lost innocent souls, the poor people who weren't responsible but happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time when evil was in the neighbourhood - the title track, for instance, being inspired by the assassination of Arabian King Faisai, a Grateful Dead fan no less, who was murdered by his own nephew in a still-befuddled-sounding coup (perhaps, too, the band were contemplating their much ballyhooed concert at the foot of the Geeat Pyramids of Egypt in 1978). Other characters are suffering too though: the Dead (or at least their lyricist Robert Hunter) might be telling the band or their whole generation to 'roll away the dew' before they get set in their ways forever, reflects that we can't have everything we want in life on 'Crazy Fingers' and finally lets loose the gates of hell on the title track before the song pleads to put the past wrongs behind us and 'meet as friends' not enemies. Even for the Dead this is a philosophical album, full of stark threats and warnings to communities to stay together, to get along, to remain as equal as human error and frailty will let them - or, in the words of 'Franklin's Tower', 'if you plant ice you're going to harvest wind' - the Arabian winds of injustice when communities become scattered, voices go unheard and views are left unrepresented. That's the Wednesday and Friday shootings taken care of then, but more than that this album covers the Sunday peaceful protests too, the requiems for the lost cartoonists who were only doing their job and perhaps even the gunmen who thought the world was laughing at them, rather than laughing at everybody. Throughout the tough times help is only a united musical march away: the first side is bookended by two songs that promise 'help on the way' and suggest that it's never too late for peace to reign - that 'the music never stopped'. There you have it: a threat, a warning, a struggle and a vow to make things better all in the course of one album (though heard in a rather jumbled up order, I must confess). To be honest this album couldn't have been more perfect had the Dead song 'France' appeared on this record instead of 'Shakedown Street' in two albums' time or had the Dead re-recorded 'Cosmic Charlie' as 'Je Sui En Cosmic Charlie' for a hidden bonus track. What some of time-travelling cosmically aware path could the Dead have possibly be on to make such music?
Actually, for perhaps the only time in their long thirty years history, the Dead weren't up to much at all. The music had all but stopped, after a year long hiatus agreed to long before that had seen them 'retire' after a series of shows at the Winterland in October 1974 (and the 'From The Mars Hotel' album released that June) without any promise about when, if ever, they were coming back. The band were simply tired out, fed up of the endless tour-album-tour-album-tour cycle that had seen them play at least one gig every two months during their first decade together. The Dead, at last, had money after their Grateful Dead Records company had finally got off the ground (and they'd all recovered from the unfortunate incident with Mickey Hart's manager father running off with all their money in 1970) and the group were itching to indulge themselves with a series of actually fairly rum solo albums ('Compliments Of Garcia' 'Keith and Donna' 'Seastones') that suggested the group were indeed burnt out and running low on ideas. Even when the band met back up with each other and tentatively agreed to a reunion they were clear about what they didn't want to do: a record that sounded just like where they'd been before. They even recorded this album in relative secrecy, hiding out at Bob Weir's home studio rather than publicising this fact to fans and drawing the process out (as per 'Mars Hotel').  For the first time ever the Dead went into these sessions without any songs up their sleeves, with nothing bar the odd guitar phrase and a few favourite keys they fancied jamming in. All the songs that appear on this album came about from the band jamming together, throwing out ideas and seeing what would stick, eventually ending up with seven very different sounds (two of them, plus large portions of another two, being instrumentals - the highest proportion ever on a Dead album).
As a result this is the one last time (except perhaps for the title track of 'terrapin Station') where the Dead reach beyond their usual limits and push the boundaries of what they can do - the last time they've given up caring about their listeners and aren't worried that fans will be left behind. 'Allah' may be Eastern European in imagery but it's distinctly Western jazz in texture and feel. For the first time since the trilogy of 'Anthem Of The Sun' 'Aoxomoxoa' and 'Live/Dead' the band make the most of their unique setup - their ability to play 'like the five fingers of one hand' in improvised telepathic synchronisation - and simply let the music (or at least their sub-conscious') play. The Dead infamously struggled to get their loose live sound onto a studio record without it sounding sloppy, but 'Allah' is the closest; the opening twelve minute trilogy is arguably the greatest example of extended jamming inside a studio, while the lighter, shorter instrumental 'Sage and Spirit' is lesser known but just as delightful, proving how many styles there were in the Dead's box of styles. Even the 'songs' were written in a hurry, which makes sense when you hear the rambling second half of the title track or the comparatively straightforward reggae of 'Crazy Fingers' (not one of Jerry Garcia's most inspired songs) but is extraordinarily impressive when you consider that poor Bob Hunter had the hardest task of all. Invited down to the studio but incredibly bored after one jamming session after another, Hunter generally had to write his lyrics for four of the album's seven songs in a tearing hurry so the band could re-record and mould their jamming sessions to fit. Whilst Hunter worried about them (and 'Crazy Fingers' is a long way from his finest hour) this album is actually a poetic tour de force, full of haiku-like quotable phrases throughout that, rather than telling an American folk tale as usual, pick up on something mystical and other-worldly. While not quite on a par with the stoned philosophy of the 'Dark Star/St Stephen/That's It For The Other One' trilogy of the late sixties these songs are certainly sharper and more original than his work for 'Mars Hotel'. In other words keeping the band on their toes largely pays off.
For instance where 'Mars Hotel' really was just a collection of songs, no matter how hard we tried to tie them into something, one of the themes that crops up across the record a lot is one of things taking seed. There's a lot of cause and effect across this album and the feeling that mankind's fate is in his own hands (not those of any God from any religion) which makes for a refreshing change, the grooving instrumental 'Slipknot' linking tales of disaster and hope as if the two are binded inescapably; we start off in 'Help On The Way' with Paradise, portrayed as an angel, growing bored at waiting for the day she's meant to come and usher in a new era for mankind. The band cook away at their loopy riff but get further and further away from the source with each passing thread, all disappearing down different keys to the point where most bands would have to stop and try again, but this is the Dead and they launch neatly into the punchline of 'Franklin's Tower', that the breeze of change is awaiting inside us all once our life lessons are learnt, no longer 'blind all the time we were learning to see'. 'The Music Never Stopped' is Weir and John Barlow's take on the theme and the band's hiatus: an un-named group come to town, everybody jives and has a great time and unites in the name of peace and harmony - and suddenly the band disappear. Were they ever really here at all? Or did the people have a nice time because of the feeling of peace they brought with them? Garci/Hunter's 'Crazy Fingers' is, by contrast, something of a weather report (was it inspired by Weir's 'Weather Report Suite' from 1973?) with a loved one's every move alternating depending on their mood, like meteorological phenomena. However the second half of the song seems to fit the album's overall style: the feeling that change is inevitable and bittersweet, that old civilisations will always topple in favour of new ones and that we should stop worrying about it and let it go, enjoying the 'ride'. And then, like a mirage shimmering in the distance, arrives the impenetrable title track, an Egyptian ode to death that sounds as if it's a jumbled up collection of un-translated hieroglyphics, each one offering its own story. Throughout the song's lyrics religious imagery (both Muslim and Christian) is sprinkled, the significance of a 'ship of state' (a ship of fools?) setting sail because it blindly believes that everything is safe, when really it is drifting on sand, beached by the true suffering of those underneath those in power. Oh and crickets, lots of crickets, as gathered up by Mickey Hart in a box and brought into the studio where they left to perform a big microphone - even though no one is quite sure why (the band let them 'go' in a ceremony after the session which took place in the back of Weir's garden, nearby to the studio - where their off-spring still chirp merrily away to this day!)
Ah yes, Mickey Hart: if you've been reading these reviews in chronological order then - boy your eyes must be tires by now, put this article down and get some sleep! But you'll also know of course that the Dead have been a drummer short ever since the sad events of 1971 when his own father Lenny ran away with the band's takings without his son's knowledge, Though the band remained supportive and friendly and didn't want Mickey to leave (few of the bands I've researched for Alan's Album Archives have as many happy stories and as few sad ones as the Dead, nor indeed as fun to be in, despite the sadly premature deaths of three members down the years) Mickey's heart wasn't in it anymore and he took a three sabbatical, surprising but pleasing many fans when he suddenly returned for the final pre-retirement Winterland show in 1974. By now he's a permanent member again and will be for the rest of the Dead's long strange trip. However, rarely will Hart play as key a role on the Dead's music as he does here, providing all sorts of unusual percussion instruments and sound effects in addition to the two-way drumming that sounds especially strong on the opening trilogy (to his credit too, Billy Kreutzmann whose been epic behind the drums the past few albums simply slots back into their old shared routine no questions asked, as if it's been hours since he last played like this not years). Sadly, though, nobody told the printers at Warner Brothers that Hart was back in the band (very Dead, that) so his face is missing from the distinctive 'carved' plaque on the back of the album cover (representing bottom row, left to right, a young looking Weir, a very furry looking Garcia and a surfing look for Billy, plus top row, left to right, a professorial looking Keith Godchaux, a scary looking Donna Godchaux and a hopelessly failed attempt to get Phil Lesh's likeness). From this album on Donna is also counted as a full-tine member, after 'guest appearances' on 'Wake Of The Flood' and 'From The Mars Hotel' and she even gets her first writing credit as part of the title track. For now her vocals still don't have that much impact on the overall sound but her gospel background (working with Elvis in the early 70s amongst other session work) comes in handy on 'The Music Never Stopped'. Her career as a foil to Bob in particular starts here as the band start to use her distinctive sound more and more.
Overall then, despite the familiar looking fiddle-playing skeleton on the front cover, 'Blues For Allah' is unusual territory for the Dead. The band have taken a big big gamble, completely restructuring their sound and ending up with an album that's their loosest and most rambling 1969. Surprisingly most of the critics and a majority of their fans took to this album straight away, even with its less radio friendly air and unfashionable title (many of the reviews I've read keep 'apologising' for the title for some reason, though surely the epitome of freedom of speech is the Dead playing whatever music they like to whatever God they choose; certainly there's nothing blasphemous here; nothing to frighten anybody away whether you're of the Muslim religion or afraid of people who are). By and large this move is a success: the 'Help On The Way > Slipknot! > Franklin's Tower' trilogy is genuinely thrilling, in a way that however lovely poignant and beautiful the last batch of Dead records before this were you couldn't say about any record since 'Live/Dead'. 'Sage and Spirit' too is lovely, the folkier side of Bob Weir coming to the fore again in a delightful dance that adds a Medieval flavour to the album (taking us back to the Crusades perhaps - surely more of a cause for reprisals against Christians than any cartoon could ever be, though it's been all but airbrushed out of history). Nothing here is truly bad, although the title track is a good five minutes too long and seems to carry on simply because the band haven't worked out an ending for the song yet.
However newcomer fans might feel disappointed that such an apparent 'classic' album's legacy rests basically on the opening three songs, two variable instrumentals, two so-so 'regular' songs and a crazy paving title track that infuriates as much as it thrills. As is so often the case with the Dead, the music performed here is simply too new and shiny too: the rough edges added by a few months on the road will do wonders for all this material (even the scant three performances of the title track sound better, while there are some truly mind-blowing 'Help/Slipknot/Franklin's around on the many archive CD releases that make even this studio lion sound like a kitten). The end verdict? The rest certainly did the Grateful Dead the world of good, they're back to sparking on all levels and when poor Bob Hunter is given enough time he's coming up with some jaw-dropping lyrics we haven't seen the like and consistency of since the prolific year of 1970. However this comeback feels slightly rushed and is often aimless, a week or two of jamming and three or four excellent new songs away from being the all-out classic it's often held to be. While I play all the Dead albums in relatively frequent rotation this certainly isn't the record of theirs I choose to play that often: it's left-field curve-balls are sometimes hard to navigate even when you know they're coming and your patience can be tested in a way that no other band would dare to so often or so comprehensively (can you imagine a band releasing a rambling aimless song like 'Blues For Allah' nowadays, and not just because of the political/religious climate?) In truth this is the continuation of a patchy run of albums started by 'Mars Hotel' and which will continue for the rest of the Dead's studio career, with very-good, almost-great albums that are scuppered by a few mistakes along the way. Still, if this band were perfect they wouldn't be the Dead and they certainly wouldn't be living this dangerously as late as ten years into their career, with 'Blues For Allah' at times sparkling with the fire and energy of a band just starting out. Wise and courageous in equal measure, they don't make album like this one anymore - which is a tragedy (especially the way things are this week), even with the odd dodgy five minutes or so. Under eternity, blue.
Before we start on the songs proper, how come all the CD re-issues index 'Help On The Way/Slipknot' as one track and 'Franklin's Tower' as another? Surely this is either a medley of three tracks or three distinct entities depending how you look at it? And in case you were wondering the listing of 'Milkin' The Turkey' as a 'separate' track to 'King Solomon's Marbles' rather than the second half on the original vinyl appears to have been a mistake by Warner Brothers rectified for the CDs. For this review we'll be featuring the first three tracks as individual songs in their own rights - but then treating 'Solomon's and 'Blues For Allah' as one distinct song in many parts, just in case anyone out there is looking up for one part in particular.
Right, after that confusing opening I need help - but thankfully there's 'Help On The Way', perhaps the highlight of the record for me and a marvellous display of what makes the Dead so distinct to other bands. Had any other group of the mid-70s handled this song they'd have made it a straightforward paranoia rocker (the sort of thing Black Sabbath wrote once then endlessly recycled), but the Dead set the sound up with a jazzy backing track that sits for most of the song like a tightly coiled snake before suddenly striking. Not since the 1960s have the band used so many simultaneous yet different ways of reaching the same destination - it's as if the orchestra from 'A Day In The Life' told to make their same way to that final crashing chord were playing throughout the song. With each pass through the riff the narrator is further adrift from home and mankind that bit further away from the 'paradise' that impatiently awaits him. Even though man longs for an intervention from on-high to put the course of nature back into balance, lyricist Robert Hunter is keen to point out where the blame lies - and it's not with the Paradise Angel but man himself. Along the way the narrator pleads for release from the evil world of the present whatever it takes ('Tell me the cost...tell me love is not lost') and realises that only now in true peril does he realise how balanced and favourable the world was before ('Blind all the time I was learning to see'). His conclusion in the last verse is that man has become cynical and stopped believing that he has any right to a happy future, as 'without love in the dream it will never come true'. Garcia's exquisite vocal is spot-on for this troubled nerve-jangling song, as not since 'Wharf Rat' in 1972 has the fragility in his paper-thin voice been more apt, while the rest of the band sound impressively heavy and threatening, each one setting the others off into a panic like a string of dominoes or an internal fight that can never be resolved. No wonder Garcia's guitar is pushed into a screaming pitch of confusion by the end of the song and a quick segue into...
'Slipknot', an even jazzier instrumental which arrives out of nowhere, perfectly named for the fact that it ties two very different songs (with a new mood, theme, tempo and key together quite nicely). Given it's placing in the trio of songs this scary instrumental is clearly meant to signify mankind's dark struggle in the future, finding him falling further and further out of line with the pretty little dance of where he started. Keith Godchaux's doubling of Garcia's feedback-coated brittle guitar lead is particularly strong here, twinkling away as if a chirpier reminder of how great things could have been, while Weir's chunky rhyhm guitar slashes away at them both and Lesh is off in his own world, dragging the song down with a bass-heavy torpor it cannot escape. Funnily enough, though, it was this instrumental that naturally 'grew' into the previous song rather than the other way around - the band can even be heard playing an early version of it during their 'farewell' Winterland shows of 1974 (somehow it turns into the strains of 'Not Fade Away' as heard sandwiched between 'Playin' In The Band' and 'That's It For The Other one' on disc five of the 'Grateful Dead Movie Soundtrack). An early version - sadly not released to date - even contained a few hurried Hunter words to it, which scan as if they're meant to follow immediately after the  'Help On The Way' section and once more deal with mankind's unhappy present and how the blame is shared around the modern world ('Beautiful lie, you can pray you can pay till you're buried alive, blackmailer blues, everyone in the room owns a part of the noose, slipknot gig, slipknot gig!') There are still rumours that this part of the song was 'pinched' for the hard rock band of the same name (this is about as close in a frightening sense as the Dead ever come to the full-on scream of heavy metal). Suddenly, alarmingly, some seven minutes in the band finally manage to find their natural way to the end of the phrase that kick-started the howl song off and thanks to a cheeky edit somehow find themselves landing in the happier times of...
'Franklin's Tower', a much happier finale to the trilogy that features wise old professor Garcia telling us that it's never too late to change. Taking it's imagery from lots of ancient sources (Franklin's Tower' itself comes from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, specifically 'Franklin's Tale'  and the biblical story of the Tower of Babel, designed by its builders to reach up to heaven so that mankind could speak firsthand to the angels and speed the process of paradise up; inevitably it collapses before it ever reaches the sky, with God 'dividing all those working on it across several continents with different languages; umm thanks for that!; 'Babel' literally means 'gateway to God' which fits with the lyrics of 'Help On The Way'), it catalogues the fact that many times down the millennia mankind has reached out for help - and yet he's still here, still fighting. Hunter's lyrics praise the heavens for giving 'us' the 'children' who still try to 'ring the bell' that will usher in the golden era (he may well have had the hippies in mind), while Garcia adds a singalong chorus in which everyone can play a part in moving those storm-clouds, that together we can 'roll away the dew'. Given the similarities between this song and one of the Dead's earliest and most popular cover songs (the gorgeous 'Morning Dew', written for the aftermath of an atomic attack) it's not unreasonable to suggest that the setting is the same; that after a war comes peace. Of course the problem of 'Help On The Way' was that no one knew what to do to makes things better - so Hunter adds a new bit of advice that all Dead fans everywhere can salute ('If you get confused, listen to the music play!') The best line though is the stark warning 'if you plant ice, you're gonna harvest wind' - while technically gibberish I and millions of Deadheads know what it means; basically again that 'without love in your heart it will never come true' and that with the wrong motives we're surrounded by buffering heavy storms that bring the cold in from all sides. A clever song with a nice calypso lilt to it (the first of many a Dead song to come with a Caribbean vibe), somehow 'Franklin's Tower' manages to put an end to all the worry of 'Help On The Way' without sounding light or trivial, whilst working as a song in its own right (in concert the band performed this as a standalone piece far more often than they performed the whole trilogy). Even if the riff is stolen wholesale from Stephen Stills' 'Love The One You're With' (which, to be fair, is 'stolen' in turn from a Billy Preston record!) The Dead's return has started with a bang, the best one-two-three punch since 'American Beauty' back in 1970.
Alas from here-on in the band's ambition falls back slightly. The fiery instrumental 'King Solomon's Marbles' is the downside to having all of these songs written effectively on-the-spot. What's odd is that this jazzy atonal jam is actually less interesting or suitable than many of the 'working pieces' that didn't make the album (many of which were added to the CD re-issue after being thought lost for years; the driving eight minute 'Distorto' especially sounds like the basis for a much more interesting and Dead-like song than what we got here). To be fair the moment the band stop playing and suddenly hit the groove for the song's second half (at around 1:55) is delicious, a sign of everything that makes the Dead so, umm, alive. Naming instrumentals is always a dodgy business - most titles are made after the fact and weren't in anyone's mind when they jammed the 'song', but the fact that the Dead are already giving this piece a name that's both biblical and East-European may be significant about how ingrained the two themes are in this album. Solomon (or Salyuman in the Qu'ran) was the King of Israel somewhere around a millennium and one of the few figures to appear in both Christian and Muslim texts. His reign was an unhappy one, resulting in a sp;lit of the kingdom, allegedly as a direct result of worshipping false idols, which fits the theme in neatly with the opening trilogy (was this instrumental originally part of 'Slipknot' - you can imagine how the two might have joined together, although this instrumental as heard here was barely ever performed live). As for the two 'subtitles', 'Stronger Than Dirt' is a sneaky reference to the similarity of one of Garcia's guitar lines to a then-current cleaning commercial that used the same quote in it's adverts and you can't milk a turkey, so don't even try (although the second half foes sound like one of those jerky monochrome early cartoons where all sorts of creatures get molested; seriously that 1920s Mickey Mouse would be in the Operation Yew Tree suspects list today. I always preferred predecessor Oswald The Lucky Rabbit anyway...)
'The Music Never Stopped' offers a softer, gentler end to the album's first side, a lightly jazzy Bob Weir-John Barlow song that sounds like a sequel to 'Playin' In The Band', a postmodern reference to a group that bring joy and delight to a millions-strong crowd of people. However, while 'Playin' (taken from Weir's first album 'Ace') was a view of the Dead from on stage, this one is from the audience - the band were just a mirage, the audience left asking 'were they ever here at all?' Instead, like 'Help' and 'Frnaklin's, the joy and wonder came not from God or even rock-God intervention but from humanity itself. Of course the song works equally well as a tribute to the fans who kept the faith throughout the band's hiatus and a reference to the fact that the Dead and Heads are too tied together to ever truly stop playing. Musically simpler than the other songs on this album, this one always feels slightly out of place - perhaps because it is a 'proper' song with verses and choruses rather than a jam. When heard in concert, usually after a fierce jamming session, it can be a delight played well - here in context of the songs around it the piece sounds slightly insubstantial. The jazzy overdubs with a full orchestra overdubs and Donna at her shrillest (in studio terms at least) also threaten to tip the production of this song over the edge. There's a peculiar mix of styles too: at times this song seems to have the calypso bent of many of the other songs here, at other times it's pure jazz, Billy and Mickey's delightful rat-a-tat intro is pure rock and roll, while the 'c'mon chirren' chorus is pure blues. I like my Dead to bridge styles, but this is arguably at least one too many. All that said, Weir is in sparkling form on the lead vocal, there are some beautiful harmony vocals (especially the wordless float near the end, which rivals CSN) and a nice bit of interplay with Garcia (who leads the last verse in with the intro to each line, 'you know the...' , fitting for this song's themes of unity and democracy). Note too the description of 'the band' as 'Jehovah's favourite choir', adding yet another branch of religion (Jehovah's Witnesses') into this album's dense texture of sources.
'Crazy Fingers' is another actual 'song' song from Garcia and Hunter which might have been a highlight on other albums but what with the fire of the opening trilogy sounds a little one-layered by their standards. The most reggae song in Garcia's long canon of originals, it's  a sleepy little song that coasts in a passive way rather than the force of most of the album's first side, with only Godchaux's remarkable fender rhodes 70s-white-rock-meets-Jamaica playing taking the lead musically (unusual in itself as Godchaux tended to mirror rather than create; this is one of his all-time greatest additions to the Dead studio catalogue). Garcia too turns in one of his better guitar solos, a part that in comparison to his usual jaw-dropping playing makes do with the absolute minimum of notes. Lyrically it's an unusual fit from Hunter, full of haiku-like phrases of irregular metre (8/9/9/3/8/6/4/9/3 syllables per line), as if trying to fit with Garcia's irregaular reggae rhythms - it's a testament to both that they can get away with this without the song seeming daft or making no sense. Unusually too for the pair these lyrics that are about love and the way that the touches from a loved one have such a big impact it seems like they directly impact the weather (funnily enough, a shaggy dog  story about Garcia's death has the guitarist's ghost creating a thunderstorm out of nowhere as his 'farewell', one bad enough to black out most of an entire state for an hour - to this day no one knows what caused it). However even here there's a feeling that the narrator is infatuated and in lust rather than love, sighing 'life may be sweeter for this - I don't know' as if he's already having doubts. Given Jerry's difficult love life at the time Hunter may have been making a sly comment to his old friend here; it was an open secret to everyone except his wife Carolyn aka  'Mountain Girl' that Garcia had recently met up with his old sweetheart Deborah Koons, the start of a double life that will have a major impact on his life and the pair still fight over Garcia's legacy to this day. Notably, for all of this song's very tender and romantic lyrics (Cloud hands reaching at a window, tapping at the window - touch your hair'), the song ends on an unhappy note, the narrator falling down a 'key change' hole that leaves him pondering 'never could reach, it slips away but I...try!' while Garcia's guitar finally stops coasting and starts gnawing away at the song's riff like a dog with a bone. Throughout the song some gorgeous harmonies help soften the blow (Bon and Donna sound especially goof together, with 'Allah' arguably the best vocal-Dead album since 'American Beauty') and all in all the Dead turn in one of their better performance on the album, with Garcia too coping well with the many emotions he'd asked to play. However as a song only that twist at the end really sticks in the melody compared to Garcia and Hunter's vest efforts.
'Sage and Spirit' is a lovely folky instrumental featuring just Weir's twin acoustic guitars, Keith's piano and guest Steve Schuster on flute. The trio sound not unlike a baroque orchestra, with Weir later admitting that he'd written the song as a warm-up exercise before shows to warm his hands up, a more interesting version of playing 'scales'. However as he was learning the guitar part his hotel room was suddenly invaded by the laughing cries of two children, Sage and Spirit, whose dad Rock Scully was the band's road managers. Most of the Dead band and key crew's children were generally given free reign (Pigpen, famously, worked as an unpaid babysitter for most of Haight Ashbury, given that he was the only not high on illicit substances all the time!) and were as welcome in Bob's room as anywhere else. Bob, still trying to work on his scales, heard their laughing and gentle pillow-fighting as a pair of flutes working in and out of the sound he was trying to create and so added them into the song. Featured just twice live (odd for a band who played practically everything they did on stage, however unloved), it's a shame that 'Sage and Spirit' didn't gain a second life in the band's acoustic set - it's a pretty and pretty valiant attempt at trying something different that comes off very well. The flutes especially are a welcome addition to the Dead's dense array of textures, whole the retro Medieval flair of the backing seems entirely fitting for an album that quotes wholesale from the Bible and Qur'an and it's a pity we never hear their like again. Listen out for a brief scary passage near the end where someone (Garcia?) can be heard talking underneath the song.
The album's lengthy finale piece is 'Blues For Allah' itself, a scarier re-write of the opening trilogy. This time the world Governments have 'set sail on sand' beaching any chance at world unity. A call to prayer for the world over, the song pleads with the world to 'meet as friends', with the 'needle's eye' needed to get into heaven 'thinning' (based on the old phrase about it being easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to get into heaven). I used to think this song was meant as a criticism of the rich and powerful who proclaim religion from the rooftops without actually doing anything charitable with their funds, but the Dead were genuine supporters of Saudi Arabia's King Faisal, at that time one of the richest men in the world (he in turn was the only world leader before Bill Clinton to admit to a passion for the Dead). His sudden unexpected death, at the hands of his own nephew in March 1975 when this album was being made (a death still unexplained - his nephew was later committed to an asylum although many feel this was to prevent him from talking) inspired this song as a 'tribute'. However I'm not sure if 'Blues For Allah' is really a 'tribute' - it is another cry for unity and peace, but here the Dead sound almost threatening, singing over a series of tough dramatic chords that unlike 'Franklin's find no resolution or hope in their desperate struggle. The song makes more sense when you learn that it was based on the 'phrasing' of a song from ancient Egypt - although given that nobody wrote music down in the Egyptian days (I'd love to see a stave filled with hieroglyphics!) I'm not quite sure how that can be (if the band merely based the melody on how the lines run then note how similar these lines are to 'Crazy Fingers' - this could have been a reggae song or a nursery rhyme solely on that basis!) Throughout the band play using a 'planned' system whereby they couldn't play the same note for more than two 'bars' (in as much as a 'bar' means anything when you're improvising over a changing time signature) so that one or other of the band would always be at an uncomfortable 'right angle' to somebody else. While  a natural evolution of the band's live show, it's unnerving to hear a whole song planned like that from the first on record and the results don't really come off (the band later admitted it was 'rushed' as the album needed to be released as soon as possible).
On the one hand the Dead really get the flavour of the desert on this 'song', with its eerie sing-songy nursery-rhyme-turned-bad flavour as heard in many an Arabian Hollywood film and once again the vocal balance is exquisite. However the lengthy atonal middle section is amongst the heaviest going in the Dead's canon (right up there with the 'prologue' and 'Epilogue' in the middle of an otherwise cooking 'Truckin' on 'Europe '72') and the end, while prettier, is deeply dull for the Dead ('Under eternity. Blue' repeated over and over for almost five minutes, while Donna wails unconvincingly). While I happen to like the sound of crickets, I'm also not entirely sure what they're doing here as the noise is more of a Western one (then again, camels and scarab beetles don't really make much of a distinctive noise I suppose). The other 'effect' - Garcia using something called a 'vocal gate' to intone the words 'Allah...Allah' below human ear-shot - also seem a futile gesture, for all the band's talk of ;you can hear the desert saying something but you can't quite hear what it is' talk - instead it just sounds like a band that's fallen to sleep and forgotten what the tune was, for nearly nine whole minutes. The last two-thirds of this 'song' then are a wash-out, which is a great shame for a song that started with such promise. After all, the opening is full of some of Hunter's most striking lyrics (The most quotable lyric here is the one that returns to Franklin's Tower' - the line 'what good is spilling blood? It will not grow a thing' - meaning that revenge and hatred lead to nothing good) and the thought of an Arabian Dead with all their harems, mysticism and skeletons sitting on camels just seems so 'right' somehow. It's just a shame then that only the opening three minutes of this nearly thirteen minute opus is of any real benefit to the Dead canon. Under eternity. Blue.

Overall, then, 'Blue For Allah' is an album you admire more than you love - although the opening trilogy will always have a special place in fans' hearts. We fans love the fact that this band care enough to experiment - although sometimes you wish that the band had more material and more time to experiment so that the parts that don't work can be left on the cutting room floor instead. Rarely on this site have we had to review an album where a mere fraction under half of the total is made up of instrumentals - and yet it helps that a lot of these instrumentals are rather good and that the rest of the material is just about deep and complex enough to carry the rest. Personally I find it fascinating that the Dead should try so hard to break the mould during their comeback and the idea of hearing both the Dead's 'jazz' and 'religious' album is a fascinating one. Given the times that we live in at the moment this album's multi-language multi-faith call to peace the whole world over has also never seemed more suitable or poignant, a clever idea that's reflected well with some of Hunter's greatest lyrics. But taken as a whole, as a listening experience that's merely another album, you have to say that 'Blues For Allah' isn't actually that much more consistent than 'From The Mars Hotel' and a lot less convincing as a whole than 'Wake Of The Flood'. Time shows that rather than the launching pad for a whole new era (where this album's faults could be forgiven that much more), the teething troubles making this record put the band off for good (barring one last try with the title track of 'Terrapin Station', a brilliant song bludgeoned by an epic production) and make 'Blues For Allah' a rather sad one-off, adrift between two of the band's poppier records. Still God loves a tryer so they say (just don't ask which God) and this blues offered up to Allah is one of the hardest attempts to make something only the Grateful Dead could do in the band's whole existence; on those terms alone it's an unqualified success, even if it can't sadly live up to the promise of the exciting opening. 

Other Dead-related articles from this site you might be interested in reading:review.html

‘Live/Dead’ (1969)

'Workingman's Dead' (1970)

'American Beauty' (1970)
'Blues For Allah' (1975)

'Terrapin Station' (1977)
'Shakedown Street' (1978)
'Go To Heaven' (1980)
'In The Dark' (1987)

'Built To Last' (1989)
Surviving TV Clips 1966-1994
The Best Unreleased Recordings 1966-1993
The Last Unfinished Album 1990-1995
Live/Solo/Compilations Part One 1966-1976
Live/Solo/Compilations Part Two 1978-2011
A Guide To The CD Bonus Tracks
Dick's Picks/Dave's Picks
Road Trips/Download Series/Miscellaneous Archive Releases

Essay: Why The ‘Dead’ Made Fans Feel So ‘Alive’
Five Landmark Concerts and Three Key Cover Versions

The Byrds: Solo/Live/Compilation Albums Part Two of Four (Gulp!) 1973-1977

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

Stephen Stills/Manassas "Down The Road"
(Atlantic,  April 1973)
Isn't It About Time?/Lies*/Penasamiento/So Many Times*/Business In The Street//Do You Remember The Americans?/Down The Road/City Junkies/Guaguanco De Vera/Rollin' My Stone
* = Chris Hillman compositions or co-compositions
"Some people into Jesus, other people  into zen, I 'm just into every day, don't hide where I've been!"
Manassas' second and final album has always had the reputation as being something of a terrible album. Made in a rush, with the band tired from the strain of touring and being pulled in lots of different directons (Stills was approached about a CSNY reunion and Hillman invited to form Souther-Hillman-Furay during this same period), there was certainly a sense that something great was coming to an end. Reports of the band living in the same house, Stills knocking on their doors at all hours of the night when he had an idea for an overdub, hint at a band that started off as great fun but was quickly wearing everyone out: perhaps that's why this album has such a blurred, sluggish feel about it, a million miles away from the sharpness of the first album. Clearly made in a hurry (and re-done at Atlantic boss' Ahmet Ertegun's request when a first version was submitted with lots of songs by all the band and he requested 'more Stephen', leaving many of the best songs in the can, only a few of them released on 2009's 'outtakes set 'Pieces'), the sheer pleasure of the first album has all too clearly turned into hard work.
However that was always going to be inevitable after the electic range and sheer porlificness of the first double album, whatever the band did: even a second double album would have been seen as too much of a 'repeat'. Stills is one of those writers who can never ever replicate a past success no matter how hard he tries - he has to go somwehere new each time and 'Manassas' covered such ground he simply had nowhere left. However even though this album is poorer, song for song, than it's more illustrious elder brother it's a lot better than reputation suggests. 'Isn't It About Time?' is a cracking song about the latest in a long line of wordlwide recessions and as ever Stills' most honest and revealing work is 'hidden' behind his 'Latin' numbers, fans having to reach for the translator books to find out just how grief-stricken he is on album highlights 'Pensamiento' and 'Guacango De Vera'  (as a clue, his on-off long-lasting relationship with Judy Collins has just ended in the worst possible way with her getting married to the first person she met that wasn't Stephen Stills! Poor Stills enever quite recovered, despite a fine career rally between 1975 and 1977 when he marries and then splits from singer Veronique Sanson).  The rest of the album is less interesting: the country 'Do You Remember The Americans?' sounding like a parody of the 'country' side of the first Manassas set, while 'City Junkies' was held up by Hillman as an awful song he really didn't want to go out - the only real argument the pair ever had (it's ok actually, not that great but certainly not that bad).
Talking of Chris, he gets two of the album highlights to himself (although sessions tapes reveal he had both 'Love and Satisfy' and 'Rise and Fall' ready to go, both of them to be re-recorded by the Souther-Hillman-Furay group). 'Lies' was cut by the band twice, with a slower even more intense earlier version later appearing on 'Pieces'. One of many Hillman songs about twists, it's a great country-rocker with a strong riff and lines about always being let down. We speculate on our CSNY book to come that, after going through a bad relationship himself, Hillman is warning Stills away from his new love Veronique, who kept interrupting rehearsals by appearing out of nowhere to talk to Stills - something that didn't endear her to the band. It ends with a fascinating verse that seems to sum up Hillman's feelings that this is a 'goodbye': 'I finally got mine and now I'm gone, I hpope you get yours 'cause it won't be wrong, what you see is what you get!" Hillman's other song, a 50:50 co-write with Stills, may well be his greatest moment with Manassas. 'So Many Times' is a country ballad that features the best of the two writers: Hillman returns to his favourite theme of 'rise and fall' while Stills adds his favourite lyrics about 'hiding behind walls' for a senstitive piece that sounds deeply personal, reflecting on how both men get by only by hiding their true feelings. A gorgeous tune, some lovely vocal work (with Chris singing deep and Stills singing falsetto) plus an exquisite pedal steel guitar break from Al Perkins makes this one of the real highlights of the album and of Manassas' output as a whole.
Alas it wasn't to be. There was no more 'down the road' for Manassas, the size of the band and the cost on the road as well as offers from other places putting a premature end to a promising band. However both Stills and Hillman now look back on the project with great fondness, amazed at how much they were able to achieve in such a short space of time and how much fun it all was. Manassas should have lasted longer: even compared to The Byrds, it was the band Hillman always seemed most comfortable with and made some of his greatest work with, a band member respected and loved enough for his opinions and country/bluegrass influences but who didn't have the weight and pressure of running a band as per The Flying Burrito Brothers and Desert Rose.

"The History Of The Byrds"
(CBS,  May 1973)
Mr Tambourine Man/Turn! Turn! Turn!/She Don't Care About Time/Wild Mountain Thyme/Eight Miles High/Mr Spaceman/5D (Fifth Dimension)//So You Want To Be A Rock and Roll Star?/Time Between/My Back Pages/Lady Friend/Goin' Back/Old John Robertson/Wasn't Born To Follow//You Ain't Goin' Nowhere/Hickory Wind/Nashville West/Drug Store Truck Driving Man/Gunga Din/Jesus Is Just Alright/Ballad Of Easy Rider//Chestnut Mare/Yesterday's Train/Just A Season/Citizen Kane/Jamaica (Say You Will)/Tiffamy Queen/America's Great National Past-Times
"From dust to dust, yet nothing dies"
An interesting double-album set, the first to give a true career overview of The Byrds' career and no doubt released to cash-in on the fuss caused by the Byrds' 'reunion' album (not to mention CSNY fans curious to see what Crosby's 'first' band was like). The set is naturally heavy on the most recent era of The Byrds, given that this would still have been the vision of 'The Byrds' that came to mind with collectors of the day, but all eras of the band are covered (if briefly - the Gram Parsons years reduced to two tracks) and the running order seems to have been compiled with care, with 'natural' breaks between the four album sides (ie between the folk and psychedelic then post-Crosby then post-York Byrds). The compilation was largely derived from the release of A and B sides (and as such includes the first ever album appearance for the B-side 'She Don't Care About Time' and A-side 'Lady Friend') but does feature several key album tracks as well such as 'Wild Mountain Thyme' 'Time Between' 'Hickory Wind''Gunga Din' and 'Yesterday's Train' (welcome selections all, which other later compilations might have done well to include). The Gene Clak era Byrds seem to be over way too soon (without even 'I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better' on the set!) but by and large this is an impressive compilation and a neat first go at trying to sum up who The Byrds were and what they stood for. Certainly this European compilation is superior to the more bare-bones approach used in America ('Greatest Hits' I and II) and is a fondly regarded set amongst collectors. The packaging was nice too, with the same striking 'profile' shot of the last line-up from 'Greatest Hits II' plus a nice family tree on the back cover (one of the earliest made by Pete Frame, before he became famous doing excatly this sort of thing in the 1990s), which proved highly useful for tracking the ridiculous amount of twists and turns in the band's line-up down the years. Perhaps surprisingly - and despite strong sales that took it to #47 in the UK charts (not bad for an unpromoted oldies set in 1973) - sadly this compilation has never appeared on CD.

"Roger McGuinn"
(Columbia,  June 1973)
I'm So Restless/My New Woman/Lost My Driving Wheel/Draggin'/Time Cube//Bagfull Of Money/Hanoi Hannah/Stone/Heave Away/M'Linda/The Water Is Wide
"Without no possessions and finding myself a picture of mental and physical health..."
Roger really hadn't wanted to make a solo album. Shyer by nature than his louder Byrd colleagues (if stil very much their leader when it suited him), McGuinn was much keener to be part of a 'band' and would probably still have been running some form of The Byrds to this day had events of 1973 not conspired against him. Having effectively disbanded the 'second' band to reunite with the the first, Roger was left with no band to go back to when the 1972 reunion LP turned into what is generally agreed to be a diaster area. The obvious thing to have done would be to resurrect the Byrds name with the one member Roger genuinely loved playing with - Clarence White - but his sad death in the middle of the year just before** his 27th birthday robbed the world of an awful lot of great music, including a potential dvelopment for The Byrds. Anyway, McGuinn had secretly agreed with Crosby on their reunion that the later Byrds weren't much cop (a surprisingly acquiescent statement given the crowds who still flocked to see the band and how close 'Untitled' in particular comes to the excellence of the Byrds' early days) and that he wouldn't use the name again without the full original line-up present (something that will have major repercussions when McGuinn, Clark and Hillman reform and have to call themselves...McGuinn, Clark and Hillman later in the decade.
No, that first album had to be made. But what should it be like? McGuinn hadn't been happy with the last couple of Byrds albums, wanted tomove on from the folk-rock of the early days as his companions had and without White in the band was reluctant to go back to the country. Instead he did what the Byrds should have done when Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman walked in late 1968: become a sort of everyman player, able to tackle several styles with aplomb (Roger might also have been experienced by Hillman's role in Manassas, a band who could play anything and segued between genres as casually as The Spice Girls changed their hair-dos). 'Roger McGuinn' isn't the best thing the guitarist ever made as some critics and fans believed at the time - heck in the context of the five albums that come afterwards it's not even the best McGuinn solo album. But there's something sayisfying about this record, which promised much but delivered more, showing off several different facets to McGuinn's character instead of the quarter album he got with The Byrds each record. While there's nothing as lasting to his legacy as 'Chestnut Mare' 'Just A Season' Tiffany Lamp' '5D' or even 'Mr Spaceman' here, there is a general consistency and confidence about this record's many facets that would have come to a shock to anyone buying this record on the back of the end of the Byrds' career (when the reunion album contained just two pretty awful generic McGuinn pieces). The only bad news is that there's barely any Rickenbacker here, as Roger tries to distance himself from his trademark sound (to be fair the absence makes more sense here than it did on the reunion record).
Talking of the reunion, Crosby seems to have considered himself 'guardian angel' of this project. While the two never quite lost the sense of competition they felt around each other, the reunion album had given each other a chance to put old issues to bed and pay each other the odd compliment without sounding as if they were 'after' something. While Crosby was outspoken about hating the latter-day Byrds, it wasn't with a dismissive sneer usually because he felt that his old partner had 'more to offer' than the Battin/White/Parsons line-up could give and that he was selling his talent short. After the reunion project stalled and failed and McGuinn looked to do something else, Crosby encouraged - nay, forced - his partner to become a solo acoustic act, a nerve-racking experience with as many near-missess and success according to those who were there, but with some reiveting performances of songs like 'Eight Miles High' that saw Roger soaring again rather than coasting. Crosby helps out plenty on this record too, and while McGuinn too was found of challenges and jazzy spiky chords, it speaks volumes that it's this first Crosby-sponsored album that features the most unusual McGuinn songs of his solo career: the jazzy 'My New Woman' (with a Crosby scat vocal) and the mind-bending 'Time Cube' on which McGuinn at last gets the balance between past and future right (with a duet between a banjo and an early synthesiser). Crosby also guests on the more 'normal' songs like the world-weary 'I Lost My Driving Wheel' (a much superior re-make of a song attempted with the Byrds for an aborted last album in 1972) and the song's one country song 'Bag Full Of Money' (where their voices have never sounded better together).
'I'm So Restless' starts the record with - what else? - a Dylanesque slice of folk, with McGuinn addressing his very real sense of confusion in this period. 'What do you want me to be?' he asks the listener, 'A farner, a cowboy, an old country boy?' McGuinn even starts the song with 'Hey mister...' (so that you half expect him to say...'Tambourine Man'). I've never found out who the mysterious 'Mr D' and his friends 'Mr L' and 'Mr J' might be but I'd lay a 'bag full of money' that Roger's talking about Bob Dylan and the pair's mutual friend and collaborator Jacques Levy (whose perhaps both 'Mr J' and 'Mr L'?) That twist changes the song somewhat, especially the lines 'I know what you mean...' Is Roger defensive about the state The Byrds have fallen into? ('I'm still paying dues from that Indian trip' he quips, still playing on all meanings of the word 'trip'). Is he excplaining that he had to do something - he just chose the wrtong thing to do? Whatever your reading of the song, it's nice to hear Roger back on the acoustic and back to his folk roots.
'My New Woman' is a song that would have sounded far more at home on Crosby's 'Id' Swear There Was Somebody There' (his glorious first album, full of unusual harmonies, rule breaking and jazzy overtones like this song). Although a fellow fan of John Coltrane (Crosby must have been releived to talk about jazz agin during the Byrds reunion - it's the one genre he and soulmate Nash never really agreed on fully), McGuinn is more out of his depth than Crosby and turns in his weakest voxal on the record, smothered by his partner as in the days of old. The saxophone - the weak link across the entire record - soon gets trying too, although full marks for McGuinn for doing exactly what we wanted him to do during 'Byrdmaniax' and 'Farther Along' - take some risks instead of staying on auto-pilot.
'I Lost My Driving Wheel' is the Byrds song that got away. The one highlight of a pretty patchy last recording session in 1972, it wouldn't have made a fine record on it's own but just as 'Tiffany Lamp' had at least enabled 'Farther' to start on a high point so this song might have done. Then again I doubt this song would ever have been written without The Byrds falling apart - Roger is unusually honest and revealing here, admitting his lack of drive and his frustration with himself for losing his way. A second verse widens the story to hint at problems in his marriage too. A reunion album full of sensitive, maturer, older songs like this from the five original Byrds would have been a much more interesting record all round - given that it was first taped in the same sessions as the original attempt to record the hideous 'Born To Rock and Roll wonder why the band didn't do excatly that.  The best of the 'traditional' songs on this record.
'Draggin' is fun, starting off with a very atmopsheric sci-fi opening before doing a typically Byrds u-turn back to country/pop. One of the lighter songs on the album, this song is a gentle Beach Boys pastiche that's more affectionate than most similar goes and features lyrical refernces to 'my starboard side' and Roger even sings 'L-aaaaaaay!' in exactly the way Mike Love does on 'Fun Fun Fun'. Sadly the level of saxophone playing on this record is about the same level as Mike Love's too! Roger's vocal is rather poor and quietly mixed too, although the harmonies are well arranged and show that, in some alternate universe, McGuinn might have made a fine Beach Boy (he'll become good friends with the band, co-writing the ridiculously inane piece of fluff 'Ding Dang' for their 1977 'Beach Boys Love You' album and contributing a Rickenabcker guitar part to the rather better 1986 cover of The Mama and Papas' 'California Dreamin').
'Time Cube' is my favourite track on the album, the last of McGuinn's great sci-fi songs, taking elements from 'CTA-102' and 'Space Oddysey' but cooking them together inside a song that acts as more than just a vehicle for fun sound effects. McGuinn's duet for banjo and synthesiser (the past and the future, back in 1973) is a clever idea and the pair of very tones blend together rather well - so well you wonder why similar past/future bands like Pentangle didn't nick it. The song's lyrics are rather fun too: 'The planet was moulded from great blocks of dust, and molten eruption would burst through the crust, a new sun was shining and covered the Earth, the heavens all knowing acknowledged the birth' sings Professor McGuinn with a neat existential twist at the end of all the scientific jargon. Back writing with lyricist ** Hippard again after a bit of a break (spent mainly with Jacque Levy) the break seems to have done the pair good.
'Bag Full Of Money' is a country song Gram Parsons would have been proud of. The song may be a tribute to yet another fallen comrade (1973 was an awful year for members of this band), admitting that 'in the card game of life I was holding a trump', content to settle for what he had before 'learning to fly'. Crosby's unusual Wild West harmony - the only other country song he ever appears on is colleague Nash's 'Cowboy Of Dreams' - is nicely apt, with some Flying Burrito Brothers pedal steel adding to the colour too.
'Hanoi Hannah' is another strange song - a traditional sounding acoustic song that makes Roger sound like an old blues singer. He sounds convincing too with his most expressive vocal on the album and his guitar playing is great too. The only thing holding this song back is an unusually impenetrable lyrics from Jacques Levy that's a little too complex for the surroundings.
'Stone' is gospel, a return to the genre McGuinn had last attempted on 'I Trust', complete with lyrics about God being a 'rolling stone' and a children's choir. Bodering on twee, this collaboration between *Penn and Neil Young's sometime sideman Spooner Oldham just about escapes most of the traps around for songs about God using children's choir thanks to a sweet melody and sensitive lyrics that compare God entering your life with a hitch-hiker taking a life on life's long highwayu. It's no 'Let It Be' - and Roger is less able to sing this genre convincingly - but it's never less than pleasant.
'Heave Away' is a Jack Tarr style sea shanty, an early example of McGuinn's love of reviving forgotten folk songs from centuries back. It's a shame he still can't sing like a pirate, though, whiled the noisy backing (**CRosby/Hillman)*** rather overshadows him throughout. Still, it's a fine way to spend three minutes Jim lad - no plank for Jolly Roger this time, arrh-harr-de-harr-arrh!
'M'Linda' is a love song to Roger's then m'wife, sung as a rather embarassing reggae. We've said it before on this site and no doubt we'll be saying it again very soon: white 60s pop stars and rock music pioneers should never ever be allowed amongst steel drums - it has nothing to do with colour; it's just that playing songs in 4/4 for a living over decades means most Western musicians are ill-equipped for the laidback grooves of Jamaica and surroundings areas. Bob Marley never did any white rock, did he, or he's have sounded just as embrassing in reverse. McGuinn's attempt is more feeble than even 10cc's attempts at this and is by far the weakest moment on the album. Sentence has now been passed on M'Linda M'lord, so let's move on to final track...
'The Water Is Wide', another song with country leanings that sounds not unlike Poco: everyone tries to sound convincing and deep but all that comes across is the gentle rhythms and singalong riffs. Less interesting than 'Bag Full Of Money', it's a rather non-descript way to end the album and Crosby's harmony is far less convincing than earlier.
Still, until the unhappy ending 'Roger McGuinn' impresses most of the time: pretty good all round considering this wasx the first time in his career Roger ever had to fill a whole album himself. The result is an album that isn't always brilliant but is nearly always trying and is indeed a lot more credible and worthy of McGuinn's talents than what he'd been doing the final few years with The Byrds, light years ahead of 'Byrdmaniax' and 'Farther Along' if not quite up to 'Untitled'. 

Gene Parsons "Kindling"
(Warner Brothers,  November 1973)
Monument/Long Way Back/Do Not Disturb/Willin'/On The Spot/Take A City Bride//Sonic Bummer/I Must Be A Tree/Drunkard's Dream/Banjo Dog/Back Again
"I got a banjo - and a wife"
The sleeve of multi-talented Gene Parsons' debut record jokingly suggests that it's 'wood-powered', an oddity from the olden days released in a world that's becoming progressively nuclear and dangerous. Parsons sits in front of the biggest pile of logs you've ever seen (unless you keep a beaver as a pet, anyway), an axe of a quite different sort a swinging in his hand and looking for all the world like he's a lumberjack whose just walked home after a hard day at work. Certainly the album sounds like a hard day's work - Gene plays almost everything here and finally gets the chance to show off not just his drumming skills and velvet singing voice for a full album but his banjo, harmonica, guitar and bass playing skill sets too. Of all the ex-Byrds Gene is the one who seems to have had the most ability to make a truly solo album - and yet what's fascinating about this record is who he chooses to record with. Gene must have felt hard done by, pushed out of The Byrds after their three steadiest years right near the last hurdle and yet their presence is very much felt - Clarence White plays the few guitar parts that Gene doesn't get round to performing and Skip, while not a performer, submits a song to his old friend 'Do Not Disturb' (it's one of his better songs of the period and suits Gene's downhome banjo playing, complete with yodelling solo!) His old mate from Nashville West Gib Guilbeau guests too on rhythm guitar and fiddle and - together with Clarence -  the full Nashville West reunion country jam 'On The Spot' is one of the album highlights, with Parsons on harmonica and Clarence for once struggling to keep up.

Elsewhere the highlights are many. Parsons finally gets round to recording a studio version of his moving acoustic cover of Little Feat's 'Willin', played live by The Byrds and first taped by them right back in 1970 during the sessions for 'Untitled'. While not quite as polished as the earlier band version, this gentle cover is still a great showcase for Gene's warm voice. There are some nice country originals here too, many of them inspired by Parsons' family life now he's back home for the first time and which sound like a warm-up for the country-roots band Ronnie Lane will form the following year, full of referrences to pets, chickens and farming as well as family life.Opening song 'Monument', for example, is a moving piece about returning home to the family dog (presumably the 'Banjo Dog' who has a banjo bluegrass instrumental named after him!) while 'Long Way Back' is a nice James Taylor-style ballad that makes the busy Byrds years seem a lifetime away. If there's a complaint about this album it's that there's a few too many comedy throwaways on this album. It's as if Gene couldn't decide whether to record an album full of spiritual odes like  'Yesterday's Train' and 'Gunga Din' or comedy numbers like 'B B Class Road' and so made a pretty even micture of both. As a hint to how they work, no Byrds fan has ever claimed 'BB Class Road' as a favourite (not even the roadies out there), while quite a few fans loe the former - perhaps Parosn should have left the comedy to Skip Battin? in fact there's more comedy songs than on Skip Battin's debut - bet you didn't see that coming!)  While none of these songs are truly awful, they pale in comparison to Parsons' straighter, more serious songs. Given too how few chances Gene is going to get down the years to show off his creativity it's a shame that there aren't more true displays of what he can do here - a fact compounded by this album's famously rididuclously short running time of just twenty-seven minutes (alas even the CD runs this short, without any bonus tracks to bulk things out!) However even if 'Kindling' runs out of steam a few logs too early, I've always had the sneaking suspicion that there was a lot more talent to Gene Parsons than his few token cameos with The Byrds ever allowed the world to see and that thought is embellished, not disgraced, by this rather fine little album, which may be low on budget but high on melody and playing.

Skip Battin "Topanga Skyline"
(Sierra, Recorded 1973 Released June 2010)
Salty Dog Blues/Bolts Of Blue/Stoned Sober/Relax With Me/Willow In The Wind/Don't Go Down The Drain/Roll In My Sweet Baby's Arms/Hully Gully
CD Bonus TRacks: Roll In My Sweet Baby's Arms #2/Foggy Mountain Top/Wintergreen/China Moon
"Oh those lonesome pines and those good old times - I'm on my way back home"
Beating Brian Wilson's 'Smile' by a mere two years, it took a jaw-dropping 39 revoltuions of the Earth around the sun before someone finally issued Skip Battin's second album. What's more Skip sadly wasn't around to see it, the bassist having died in 2003. Reports about it's dismissal from the record listings ahev varied from the financial (the Yom Kippur War meant there was less vinyl to go round and solo spon-offs by cult Byrds bassists simply weren't a pripority for record labels struggling to survive) to the emotional (Skip's heart was broken after thew loss of first Clarence White and Gram Parsons in quick succession) to the purely professional (at nine tracks this album simply wasn't long enough or good enough for release at the time).
Is the result worth the long wait? Well, as with 'Skip' the bassist thinks both deeper and is in ways more accessible on the ear than most of his Byrds career, his compositions having a certain grandeur underladen with daftness The Byrds never quite got. Like the debut album, the surprise is just how normal many of these Battin/Fowley songs are, without quite falling into the hole of being bland and ordinary either. However the highlights are't the originals but two fascinating cover versions that reveal the pull-and-tug of country and rock that lasted most of Skip's life. For instance there's a rocking retro style re-make of The Olympic's 1950s classic 'Hully Gully'...recut as a traditional bluegrass song (where the lyrics dound even dafter!) There's also a nice studio take of Skip's 1972 on-stage Byrds vocal 'Roll In My Sweet Baby's Arms' which sadly did never make it to a proper Byrds record. What's more Skip has a great team of backing musicians with him including Manassas pedal steel guitarist Al Perkins and fiddle player Byron Berline, Hillman's future right-hand-man Herb Pedersen plus Clarence's brother, Roland White. This is the only time the formerly most famous of the White family guitarists ever played with any of the other Byrds and the pair are synpathetic colaborators - remarkably so given that this is the first record made by both men after Clarence's sudden death mere weeks before recordings started (Roland, remember, was actually there when his brother died and some reports say Clarence died in Roland's arms). In fact Clarence himself played on the album's earliest sessions, taped at the end of 1972, as revealed by a series of fascinating CD bonus tracks not intended for release: an alternate take of 'Roll In My Sweet Baby's Arms' and traditional number 'Mountain Dew', thought to be Clarence's last recorded work. The other two tracks are less interesting - they're taken from a rare 1981 record of Skip's named 'Navigator' which only came out in Italy and is still waiting for a proper release elsewhere - but are stil nice to have as a 'bonus' present, with 'China Moon' a song that had the potential to be great in a more 60s/70s setting.
All in all, the record is a nice find after all these years, embellishing Battin's often forgotten role in music and boosting his credentials, if not quite up to the consistency and surprise of the first album. It would have been fascinating to know just what form this album would have taken when finished: would it have been bulked out by filler or would two or three excellent new songs have turned this from a promising set to a great one? The end result is arguably most interesting because it took so long to be released - had it come out in 1973 it would no doubt have been buried like the debut album, but given that it went unheard for so long (and not even bootlegged as far as I know) it's a fascinating listen today, taking you straight back to the mid-70s era when country was king (with rockabilly not far behind) and The Byrds knew how to make it better than anybody. Alas so far few fans seem to have bought this album or even know that it exists - let's hope that changes soon. Overall, this record is more than up to the high Byrds standard of the early post-breakup years and shows that the Byrds estate was still in a strong place in 1973 (perhaps the saddest thing about this whole period was the cancellation of a fascinating sounding package tour which would have had Skip opening for Clarence's 'new' band 'Country Gazette' and Gram Parsons, busy promoting his 'Greivous Agel' LP (possibly with Gene Parsons joining them too). The tour was understandably cancelled when both White and Parsons died within months of each other).
Gram Parsons "Grievous Angel"
(Reprise,  January 1974)
Return Of The Grievous 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
"It was a dream much too real to be leaned against too long"
I've often wondered how Gram Parsons' second and final solo album might have been received had he lived to see it's release, instead of dying right in the middle of the time between completeing it and us fans having it out in the shops. For a start an awful lot of the songs on this album point eerily towards death as a subject matter, starting with that choice of album title, named after the most autobiographical  song on the record (A neat mixture of the angelic choir boy with the gorgeous heavenly country voice and the rock and roll devil with a girl in every port and a drug in every vein, Gram was no doubt referring to the duality within himself, but his death casts this choice of words in another light, as if Gram came from the stars for just a short time on Earth - and that we somehow failed the test by not listening). Much of this album reads like a confessional as Gram kicks himself for his 'big mouth' forever getting him into trouble, remembers nights spent with a girl with 'brass buttons' who was his soulmate but a fact he realised too late and later a $1000 wedding that never happened because he changed his mind. There's even a finale to the album that merges one of Gram's early loves (The Everly Brothers) with his own favourite of his songs ('Hickory Wind') as if waving goodbye to his own life, before the album ends with the spooky 'In My Hour Of Darkness' , a song about waiting to die (actually written about good friend and fellow Byrds Clarence White, but not many people knew that at the time). Taken together with Gram's mysterious personality and the myth of how he died (alone in  a hotel room in the Joshua Tree desert), not to mention the great story attached to his death (with his roadies and rock and roll buddies in conflict with his country-loving family, the way Gram's life had always been lived in miniature) no wonder people fell in love with this album the way they did, poring over it for clues and treating it as Gram's true last will and testament.
I wonder too how this album would have been seen in the context of the rest of his work had he lived, for it's arguably the only time in his whole lifetime that Gram followed up a previous record by recording another that's essentially the same (the leap from 'Safe At Home' to 'Sweetheart Of The Rodeo' to 'The Gilded Palace Of Sun' and even 'Burrito Deluxe' is too far for most artists living until their 70s or 80s). Amazingly, too, Gram 'finished' his work and submitted it to Reprise before he died (unlike so many others: Janis Joplin, Otis Redding, George Harrison, Dennis Wilson, etc) so the 'holes' in the record aren't simply the fact that the album is 'unfinished' and lacking that lasts pecial touch: this is how it was always meant to be heard (although three songs were removed by his widow, unreleased till years later, which might account for why at 36 minutes it's such a short album!) The sad truth is 'Grevious Angel' also not quite up to it's predecessor: there's nothing as strong as 'She' in Gram's own songs (although 'Brass Buttons' is another excellent song), with most of these songs written for but rejected from the last album or in the case of 'Darkness' and the title track, written hurriedly in a single day to flesh out the album. There's also a similarly disappointing set of cover material, that little bit more obvious than the time before. The decision to record a 'fake' mini-concert near the end (with Gram too 'shy' to do it for real, so they had him and the band play against a 'faked' set of applause) is also unconvincing and a curiously 'false' move for such a 'truthful' confessional album, especially Gram's hollow laugh (although that hasn't stopped many fans petitioning Reprise to ask for the 'rest' of the concert to be released!) The band are also less 'together' than they were on 'GP', after a largely drunken shambles of a tour across 1973 with lots of fallings out along the way. Most unforgivably, Emmylou Harris - the star of the last record and popular with almost all the critics who heard it - gets far less to do (although conversely she was set to get co-billing this time around; after Gram's death his widow Gretchen stepped in and after bad blood between the pair simply took her name off the cover!)  The result is a rather shoddy and rushed LP, written and recorded without the same levels of inspiration as 'GP' and would no doubt have come to be seen by Gram himself in time as a bit of a 'disaster'.
But of course that's not how this album is viewed today. This LP isn't seen as a one-off blot, but a last gasp chance to unite the two factions of country and rock music and on that level alone is a success, this record rocking far more convincgly than it's predecessor. The weaknesses of the album (the slightly weaker songs, the lesser performances and the general sense of unfocussed chaos) have been brushed over in favour of the record's strengths (it's loose and pertinent concept about regret and nostalgia, the high points like 'Brass Buttons' and 'In My Darkest Hour' and Gram's still-gorgeous voice, with or without Emmylou). Much misunderstood in his own lifetime, 'Greivous Angel' was just about good enough and adventurous enough to convince a whole load of people who'd never heard 'Sweetheart' 'The Flying Burritos' or 'GP' that they had been missing out on something - which of course they had. Clearly any album that's an artist's last comes with some sort of attachment out of scale for it's strengths (the AAA crew alone include Lennon's 'Double Fantasy', mercilessly mocked on release and treated as a career highlight once he died and Janis Joplin's 'Pearl', which even the singer had doubts about). 'Greivous Angel' is another such case, important more because of what happened next and what it signifies and ends rather than what it added to an already crammed catalogue. If I know my perfectionist Gram like I think I do, his last thoughts that September day would have been 'yippee I'm a gonna be a cult!' together with a tinge of 'why couldn't I have gone out on a better album' (or something stronger!)  Still, even if this is the weakest record of Gram's short lifespan, it's still an occasionally pioneering, often moving album that does much to suggest what a talent the world lost far far too soon. sadly it's not the last time we'll be saying that in this book...
'Big Mouth Blues' sounds pretty impressive, with a better grasp of rock-with-country-undercurrents than Ther Flying Burritos generally achieved and Gram is in impressively fiery mood as he sits in a backward empty town, desperate to break out to the city. Alas the lyrics don't come with much of a melody and the chaotic backing which has saxophones, a honky tonk piano and pedal steel guitar blaring away at random, sounds like confused chaos rather than a rocker with a message. Emmylou would have sounded good on this track too and is conspicuous by her absence.
Title track 'Return Of The Greivous Angel' is better, though still not all that memorable. Gram and Emmylou sound good, though, recounting a tale of how they 'met' (largely fictional and probably about Gretchen, although they did indeed both meet in a bar where Emmylou was singing). Despite knowing the union won't last and trying to do everything he can to escape her hold Gram sighs that 'every road returns to you'. This song also includes my favourite Parsons couplet since 'Hickory Wind': 'The man on the radio won't leave me alone, he wants to take my money for something that I've never been shown'.
Walter Egan cover 'Hearts On Fire' is more country schmaltz that never really gets going, although Gram's and Emmylou's dreamy vocals are still impressive. The pair know they're an unsuitable match and their friends try to tear them apart, but still they vow to always be together. Hmmmmm, if you say so!
Tom T Hall's energetic 'I Can't Dance' is what many country musicians think rock music is all about: dancing and sex. While that's probably true of  many songs ('Twist and Shout' for one), Gram proves that he doesn't really 'get' rock music here: drums and a 12 bar blues rhythm sped up are't enough to breathe life into this unsuitable song, even if Emmylou sounds nicely at home here.
Thankfully the gorgeous 'Brass Buttons' singlehandedly rescues the album. Opening with a lovely piano part from Glenn D Hardin, this is Gram at his prettiest, finally singing 'full' without that clipped sound he keeps for his rock and pure country songs. Like 'She' and 'Wild Horses' (the Stones song for which Gram should have gained a writing credit) it's a passionate ballad that brings out the more interesting, softer side of Parsons' character. Havinbg fallen in love, he records all the tiny details of how she looks, the pins and buttons in her hair and on her dress, although the twist in the last two verses are that he's busy writing all this down because she's left him forever and he doesn't want to forget anything about her ('The sun comes up without her - it just doesn't know she's gone').
'$1000 Dollar Wedding' is another album highlight that leads on rather nicely, Gram's delicate vocal bouyed by Al Prekin's gorgeous pedal steel guitar. Gram's narrator recalls how a friend was jilted at his own wedding and reacted angrily to their attempts to placate him, 'the traces of old lies still on their faces' as he realises they always knew the pair would split. The narrator concludes that this 'should have been a funeral' not a wedding, the man doomed never to live in the full bloom of love again- another eerie marker on an album full of references to death.
More proof of how superior Gram's songs are to the cover material comes with the first of the 'faked' concert recordings. 'Cash On The Barrelhead' by the Louvin husband and wife songwriting team has lots of flying fiddles, gliding guitars ('James Burton and his hot guitar!' as Gram puts it during the solo) and Gram and Emmylou trying to out-scream each other, but not much poise or sophistication. Lyrically this presumably appealed to Gram for the twist at the end, where the narrator lives alone and hungry until he comes into a trust fund aged 21. Warning: this song ends with a yodel.
The fake 'live' re-make of 'Hickory Wind' is a better song, but Gram sounds either drunk or tired (or both) and doesn't do his masterpiece justice. Singing at a slower tempo, the song drags more than The Byrds original, although on the plus side Emmylou's gorgeous harmonies are far more suitable to this nostalgic reflection that McGuinn's attempts at falsetto on the original!
Everyly Brothers classic 'Love Hurts' (written, like most of their best songs, by the prolific Broudleaux Bryant) is a highly suitable choice, given that even before The Byrds the harmony duo were vageuly aiming at the country-rock hybrid road. Gram repays his dues, singing one of their loveliest and saddest of songs with Emmylou's lovely support and of all the songs the pair did together this one 'sounds' the best; with just Gram's guitar backing them for a lot of the song, you can hear every note and how well the two complement each other. Easily the best of Gram's solo cover songs.
The up-tempo co-write with Rik Grech 'Ooh Las Vegas' sounds like the sort of song that would have gone down live, even though weirdly we're back to the 'studio' section of the album now. The narrator is a drunk gambling addict - which isn't too much of a stretch for Gram's acting skills - but ends rather scarily with lines that ever so nearly sum up what happened to Gram (with only the chain of hotel different): 'Spent all night with the dealer tryin' to get ahead, spent all day at the Holiday Inn, trying to get out of bed'.
The album - and Gram's career - then ends with 'In My Hour Of Darkness', which reflects on three very different lives lived in three verses (sadly it's the only song Gram ever co-wrote with Emmylou and thus her first ever writing credit). The first is a man whose so heartbroken he drives his car for miles and miles until he dies; the second - for Clarence - a man with a 'silver guitar' who 'some say was a star - but was really just a country boy...the music he had in him very few possess' and the third and final verse a man who lived to a ripe old age, 'kind and wise with age' but whose death sometime soon is inevitable, an unspoken thought that hangs between him and the narrator (exactly how Clarence would have been round about nowe had he lived - is this last verse Gram imgaining what should have happened?) Understandably, given that Gram died before getting the chance to talk about this album, many fans assumed he was singing about himself and the ways Gram himself might die: a car wreck, on stage or of old age, which makes this an especially spooky closer to an album, even though Gram probably wrote it without a single thought that he, too, would die. The sound of this song is rather hard to take, being the purest iof pure country, but that in itself is a neat nod of the head to Clarence, who would surely have appreciated the gesture, 'a country boy at heart'.
Gram is clearly a 'country boy' at heart too, although interestingly this record finds him slightly further down the rock road than 'GP' (if less than the Flying Burritos). However you come to this album - as curious fan, passiioonate country music collector, as a devoted Emmylou Harris groupie curious about her beginings or as the last release by a man you admire, you're sure to get something out of 'Grievous Angel' which has several strong moments to counteract the poor ones. However, I still question whether this album would have been anywhere near as popular without Gram's death to promote it (sadly but inevitably, the best thing an artist can do to boost their sales is to die - and the stranger their death the better). 'Greivous Angel' isn't a bad album by any means - and would sound better still with the three 'missing' Parsons originals added instead of the 'live concert' near the end - but by Gram's standards it's a 'treading water' album while he worked on what big sea change he wanted to come next. It would have been fascinating to know what that might have been - or what Gram would have been doing now. But until there's a 'return' of the 'Greivous Angel'  this record will have to do.

"The Souther-Hillman-Furay Band"
(Asylum, 'Mid' 1974)
Fallin' In Love/Heavenly Fire*/The Heartbreaker/Believe Me/Border Town//Safe At Home*/Pretty Goodbyes/Rise and Fall*/Flight Of The Dove/Deep Dark and Dreamless
* = Chris Hillman compositions
"Can you see where we've been? You know we can't do that again! Gonna be hard - hard times"
Crosby, Stills and Nash simply had to exist in 1969 or someone would have invented them- the world needed them and hard as the trio tried to argue that they hated being in bands their vocal blend and complementary writing styles were such that they were clearly destined to be together for all eternity (in between the twice yearly rows anyway). They were a true meeting of brothers, out to change the world and each had the other's back (when they weren't sticking knived into them...) - by contrast The Souther-Hillman-Furay band weren't even friends. You can see where this is going can't you? As the boss of new record label Asylum David Geffen was sure that the CSN template was going to bring him riches and he might have been right had he chosen three people who'd met in similar circumstances who'd already had one shot at fame in their lives already (10cc are about the closest, being effectively Stockport's answer to California's CSN!) So sure was Geffen that there was mileage yet in the Springfield and Byrds canons that he contacted two of them who'd been having rather a rough time of it lately: Richie was getting rather bored in Poco and losing faith in the band after several flop records, while Chris Hillman - once bassist in The Byrds - was furious that yet again fellow Byrd Gram Parsons had bailed out on him as part of their spin-off band 'The Flying Burrito Brothers' (long story short: Chris needed the money but as the privileged son of a millionaire Gram didn't and he showed up to gigs late, drunk or not at all - occasionally all three, which is quite some going) and that Stills had ended the career of promising band Manassas to return to CSN.
Chris and Richie knew each other - Hillman's enthusiasm had been chiefly responsible for the Springfield's first shot at fame supporting The Byrds - but they were hardly bosom buddies and hadn't really talked in eight years. Neither of them knew Geffen's protégé J D Souther, a writer who will indeed find some form of fame and notoriety amongst 1970s record buyers as a writer (penning hit songs for The Eagles and Linda Ronstadt) but for now is effectively a nobody with just one flop record to his name. The trio really didn't gel - Souther was used to working alone and both Richie and Chris had fought hard to escape the 'number two supporting role' tag from their first respective bands. Just look at the cover: J D Souther is looking serious, Richie is giggling his head off, Chris in the middle doesn't know what to do so goes for an expression somewhere in between; this is a band who don't even find the same things funny and when that happens you ain't got a band! Even  finding the backing crew was hard work compared to CSN - Hillman simply 'invited' the remnants of Manassas (the band he'd formed with Stephen Stills) to work on the album, but this caused tensions because the other two didn't know any of them and this was in danger of becoming a 'Hillman' solo album. The band were meant to singing about brave new tomorrows like CSN - instead they spent most of both records sniping about the shallowness of the music business and their weariness after having to start a new band all over again. Geffen, convinced that he was on to a winner, blitzed the media with a campaign strong enough to get the record all the way to #11 in the American charts, the highest Hillman had managed since The Byrds' peak years and higher than Richie or J D had ever managed before in their careers. Clearly there was a fanbase out there for these albums to work, but even the most generous critics claimed to be 'underwhelmed' by this album, the trio far less than the sum of their parts.
In the end The Souther-Hillman-Furay Band stayed together long enough to make two records and despite both records' low reputations some of it is rather good in a 'coasting California rock' kind of a way. This first album is best, with a good half of it written when the band were still hopeful this band could be a long-term investment, although even this one is more like three solo albums in one with the band rarely having much input on each other's material. Hillman is on patgticularly bright form and has three of the four highlights of the album (alongside Furay's 'Believe Me'),  all of them reflecting on the ups and downs of life in a rock and roll band (this is after allm Chris' fourth in ten years!) 'Heavenly Fire' is one of the better songs on the album, a cpountry-rock lament from Chris with Al Perkins' pedal steel up nice and loud in the mix. Like all his songs on the record, this is rather a depressing song and clearly about Chris' recent divorce, sighing that now alone again it's 'hard to live, easy to die - makes you want to get on your knees and cry'.For all that, though, Hillman manges to convey enough emotion into the song to make it sound more like the average country-rock ballad. 'Safe At Home' is another album highlight, an energetic rocker that nicks the title from Granm Parsons' first record and follows an old rocker called Tom who, weary from too much touring 'promises to quit - but he knows he never will!' While Hillman sings disaparagingly about the family and friends he has to leave about for long stretches of the year, he sounds genuinely inspired rocking out here and this is easily the most 'together' of all the Souther-Hillman-Furay performances on either record. 'Rise and Fall' is an even more bitter reflection on the music business and the speed at which Hillman has gone from zero to hero and back again down the years. This song finds somewhere near the bottom, keeping his faith alive during a 'long dark night where we struggle to survive' and sounds ready to throw in the towel with a weary chorus of 'tell me is it really worth it all?' Again, though, Hillman sounds even more inspired than he was with Manassas, delivering a great vocal that's matched by Richie's pure harmonies.
Elsewhere Furay has a very up and down album, excelleing with the gorgeous ballad first written for Poco 'Believe Me', the ok-ish 'Fallin' In Love' (the trio's first single) and the limp 'Flight Of The Dove' which all feature lots of Hillman harmonies (the pair's voices aren't a natural fit and there's not much chemistry there, but they're still a nice blend). J D Souther, meanwhile, growls his way indifferently through his own songs (which all have a habit of sounding the same) and is audible by his absence on his partner's creations. The trio must surely have been ready to cut their losses and run once this album was out, but the fact that it sold so well and the fact that both Hillman and Furay had burned all their bridges meant they gave this trio idea one last go.

Roger McGuinn "Peace On You"
(Columbia,  September 1974)
Peace On You/Without You/Going To The Country/Please Not (One More Time)/Same Old Sound//Do What You Want To Do/Together/Better Change/Gate Of Horn/The Lady/Rock and Roll Time
"Everywhere I'm bound I love to play the same old sound"
'Peace On You' is a typical second album: it restricts all the wonderful directions-at-once feel of the first album for a style that's much more unified and like the rest of Roger's albums to come - which is both a good and a bad thing. The good news is that this is the most 'together' album McGuinn has made since 'Untitled' - there are no bad songs here and no sudden dizzying genre to another. The bad news is that there's less falling down because there's less oportunity to fail - where 'Roger McGuinn' tried hard (over-hard sometimes) to reconstruct the wheel, 'Peace On You' is the chief Byrds at cruising speed. The good news, once again, is that time has been kind to 'Peace On You': fans and critics alike were disappointed on release partly because every album in 1974 sounded a little like this: pop with a slight country bend but not enough to unsewttsle anybody ('Peace On You' would have made a great Eagles album). After reading some of the harshest reviews I've ever read about this album I was expecting a catastrophe - in actual fact it's rather likeable in an I-don't-wish-to-offend kind of a way and more interesting to hear now that it would have been at the time after the eccentricity of 'Roger McGuinn' (the record I mean, not the man). The bad news is that I'm not trying to convince you that this is a five-star record you desperately need in your collection either: it's just rather good collection filler that fills you in on a Roger McGuinn B road rather than a road you have to travel.
There are less big name guest stars this time around, although interestingly McGuinn seems to have gathered together a 'whose who' of minor California legends real fans will name. Dylan sideman Al Kooper provides 'Please Not (One More Time)'; Dan Fogelberg writes 'Better Change' and Stephen Stills' songwriting partner for much of 1975/76 Donnie Dacus co-writes 'Going To The Country' and 'Do What You Want To Do'. All songs are interesting and nice additions to the album (especially the last song), but you miss Crosby's zany touch from the first album to spur McGuinn on: while he makes no mistakes anywhere he doesn't push himself far enough, sliding back to the auto-pilot we've heard from him a few times down the years with much of this album passing by without noticing, all ending up a bit the same. However I'm often impressed when a song from this album turns oup on my mp3 player's 'shuffle' in a way that I'm not when I sit through the record. While some of the tunes are so slight they either sound like something else or are so slight they barely seem like a melody at all, the star of this album is Roger's occasional writing partner Jacques Levy. Writing more accesibly than on Roger's debut LP, Dylan's old colleague turns in some of his best poetical writing hereon what often sounds a deeply personal album. McGuinn's never one for letting his emotions show of course (he's better writing for charcters - he has a real touch for people-watching) so this arguably isn't his personal confessional album but Levy (who co-writes six songs on this album, one more than Roger thanks to a cover of a song he made with Ahmad Jamal) has clearly got some things to get off his chest as part of this album. Roger again doesn't play much Rickenbacker across this album and his vocals, while strong, are often overbalanced by the sheer size of the instrumentation on top.
Title track 'Peace On You' sets thew scene for much of the album: deeply personal lyrics, a melody that's close to being a good one but sounds slightly familiar and a rather sickly sweet production all conspire to work against a song that would have sounded fine played hard and loud. After a weary lifetime and a slightly paranoid tone casting around for a new direction Roger's narrator longs for peace for everyone, even the listener. To be honest though this track is a mite too peaceful - the rowing Byrds (of any era) would have great fun spicing up this recording a bit!
Levy and Jamal's 'Without You' (not the Badfinger/Harry Nilsson song) is a sleepy confession of love and respect that comes too late to do any good. Going through his usual nightly routine alone the narrator reckons he might as  well turn his lights off permanently and throw away his door key because there's no point in living when you're living alone. Roger capturesd the heartbreak of the song well, which just about gets away with it's generic lyrics of heartbreak thanks to a nicely warm melody and a rousing chorus.
'Going To The Country' , the first of two songs by young Donnie Dacus, sounds like a Gram Parsons song. McGuinn isn't really going back to country music - just his old homelife he's almost forgotten about since becoming a city boy - but the country dressing does make this track 'feel' like a 'roots' song - one Gram (who'd died not long before the first albu's release) would have been proud of.
Al Kooper's 'Please Not (One More Time)' is a hymn to first California (where the sun shines 'like honey') and then love (where a new sun shine in life can blot out rain clouds from the past). Like many of Kooper's songs it sounds a little unfinished, with clipped melody phrases that might have sounded even better extended to a full tune and an odd backing track full of gulping instruments that work together Phil Spector-style but sound a mess apart. McGuinn isn't quite right of the song, whioch badly misses his guitar - but it's a likeable track.
Roger and Jacques' 'Same Old Sound' is 'The Same Old Song' re-written. Seeing through Roger's eyes Levy writes a lyric about travelling around the world as a music star but restricted to playing the 'same old sounds going round and round'. Ironically there's more than a touch of 'Mr Tamboruine Man' about this album, which almost-but-not-quite features the familiar Rickenbacker guitar part (one of it's few appearances on this record) and a similar walking pace tempo. The ending, interestingly is lifted directly from the scene-stealing 'la kla la' harmonies from 'Goin' Back' (the Goffin and King song covered on 'Notorious Byrd Brothers' and a flop as a single, so quite why this should be the 'same old sound' is another matter). While there are better songs around on the same subject matter there is a certain charm about this track which is less grumpy than most 'tired old rock star' rants.
Dacus and Collins' 'Do What You Want To Do' is my favourite song on the album, coming at the exact halfway point between rock and country like the days of old. The song's verses are strong, urging everyone 'not to waste tomorrow' while an urgent bass/piano/guitar montage tries to push the song forward as fast as it can. Roger's right at home on songs like these and rises to the challenge with one of his best vocals on the album.
The Levy/McGuinn song 'Together' is another good 'un. Like many a McGuinn track its' the interplay between the keyboards and guitar than make the song, pulling this way and that apart from each other before the chorus triumphantly pairs them both together. A moody ballad about unity that uses the metaphor of a musician and poet coming together for harmony in the world that should be awful and tacky but is really rather sweet.
Dan Fogelberg was a great little writer, now sadly forgotten, who propped up several 1970s AAA records without ever quite making the big time. 'Better Change' isn't his very best song but it's another country-rocker that really fits McGuinn's style, with a similar airy melody to 'I Trust' and lyrics about all things having their time and season. Annoyingly though soeone else (Dacus?) is playing the guitar solo where a Rickenbacker part would have fitted perfectly.
'Gate Of Horn' is the most unusual song here, a Roger-Jacques track that crosses a bar-room honky tonk piano with pure music hall. The narrator imagines himself 'at seventeen, a little salty and a little green', in a bar-room world filled by his heroes, with 'Mr Gibson about to play his guitar' (presumably the inventor of one of McGuinn's favourite guitar makes). The chorus is especially fun: 'There was Chetty (Atkins?) and Peter (and Paul and Mary?) and Josh and Odetta...when no one was looking McGuinn was there too!' A kind of early version of Neil Young's 'Downtown' (his imaginary hang-out for all his favourite guitarists), all these performers seem to have some connection with Roger's home state of Chicago. A neat joker in the pack.
'The Lady' is one of the pair's best songs, Levy finding himself 'wandering through the dictionary' in a desperate attempt to find the right words for his lover's beauty - and never quite finding them. The melody sounds like a real cross between early 70s Dylan and early 70s Byrd, with a lovely flowing tune and - at last - a truly memorable chorus.
Overall, then, 'Peace On You' is a typical album from 1974: everything's laidback, there's not much to get the pulses racing and all attempts to break new ground have been replaced by a kind of languid lethargy common to most records of the period. However  there are far worse albums around than 'Peace On You' (it's not even McGuinn's worst album!) and I don't quite understand why this sweet little album got quite as badly attacked as it did. We say 'peace on you, 'Peace On You' - your heart is in the right place even if your guitar isn't plugged in nearly loud enough.

Gene Clark "No Other"
(Asylum,  September 1974)
Life's Greatest Fool/Silver Raven/No Other/Strength Of Strings//From A Silver Phial/Some Misunderstanding/The True One/Lady Of The North
"When the stream of changing days turns around in so many ways, then the pilot of the mind must find the right direction"
The same month that Roger was getting his slick and slightly lazy second album together, Gene Clark was going for the big push and for once had a record company throwing their weight behind him. Asylum had gone to greatlengths to sing up all the original Byrds for that ill-fated reunion album and when Gene got the most applause from fans and critics alike decided to keep him. Compared to the low key folk albums with the Gosdin Brothers and Doug Dillard, however, this was to be a big budget release, with songs re-recorded in a sequence of exraordinary elaborate arrangements until Gene was happy with them. Knowing that this was his big chance, Gene cleaned up his act, cut down on his drinking and drug-taking and was about as 'clean' as he ever was after leaving The Byrds, putting his all into a suite of songs that demonstrated another move forward for his songwriting, with eight compositions more opaque and lyrical than ever before. There was even a theme running throughout the record of growing older and wiser, of seeing the world through different eyes and coming to terms with one's humanity and ability to make mistakes. 'Silver' is a particular theme of the record, taken perhaps from Gene's first silver hairs, with this record haunting by silver ravens, silver phials, even a 'silver shore' up in heaven in which we'll all arrive one day (the backing band for this record were known as the 'Silverados', a neat mixed image of hillbilly young desperadoes and maturity). With so much going on in each song, Gene found he could only fit eight of his songs onto a record (which at 43 minutes is pushing it for the amount of material that can be 'safely' stored on a vinyl record without a loss in quality), leaving several songs in the vaults for 30-odd years. Asylum though were't happy: they'd spent a fortune on the record (some $100,000 dollars, which back in the 1970s was a lot) and thought that Gene just hadn't been trying. When Clark announced that under no circumstances was he going to tour the record (he'd dreaded the 1960s touring packages and only really returned to the live scene out of necessity in the 1980s), Asylum pulled their losses and decided to simply bury the record, undergoing very little promotion and deleting it from their catalogue and causing it to go out of print as early as 1976. In this climate 'No Other' did well to peak at #146 in America (doing better than Roger's 'Peace On You', actually), but by then it was too little too late: once again fate had been cruel to Gene Clark and the moment had passed.
The fact that this is the one and only Gene Clark solo record not made a) in a hurry or b) on the cheap and it's unavailability for years (a 1991 CD release had sunk without trace, so it was only in 2003 that many fans first got to hear the album) meant that word of mouth among Gene's fan base had grown to the point where this was Clark's best album ever and the reviews of the album in 2003 were the most glowing Gene ever got. To this day most Byrds fans tend to consider this album Gene's masterpiece, for it's unusual sounds, cryptic lyrics and consistency. However even Gene himself wasn't entirely happy with the album at the time and actually considered his lighter, less elaborate and even lower selling album 'Two Sides To Every Story' to be his most successful. The truth, as usual in these books, is somewhere in the middle: 'No Other' is an extraordinary work that deserved to restore Gene's reputation, full of some of his greatest work. 'Silver Rain' and 'From A Silver Phial' especially are amongst his best songs and had Gene's superior re-recording of 1968 track 'A Train Leaves Here This Morning' made the album rather than just the CD bonus tracks then my three favourite Clark solo songs would be in the same place. Had Dylan recorded an album this cryprtic, challenging and ahead of it's time it would have been hailed as an instant classic. However in many ways this album is something of a backwards step from the cleverness-with-commerciality of 'White Light' and Gene's folkier songs for the reunion LP. At times it seems as if Gene has been spending the money simply because he knows he'll never have the chance again, rather than emebelssing the songs because they demand to be heard that way. While the demos and alternate takes added to the back of 'White Light' wren't all that different (it was, after all, primarily an acoustic album) the demos and alternate takes for 'No Other' are sometimes very different - and better, sounding all the grander for being in such an austere and stark setting. Sometimers the production hinders more than it helps, especially on 'Strength Of Strings' (which turns a sweet song about strength in numbers into an overcooked overblown epic, complete with choir  - though surprisngly no strings) and 'No Other', in wich Gene's artifically enhanced voice makes him sound like a killer cyborg from the future (The Byrds came up with a better, similar sound on a much lower budget for 'CTA-102' as long ago as 1967).
For all the debate about whether 'No Other' is truly Gene's strongest album, however, there's no doubting that it's a strong album. Gene's ability with words and imagery is at it's best here and despite occasionally getting carried away with the intelligence of the songs there's always plenty of heart. Gene starts the record as comedy troubador, calling himself 'Life's Greatest Fool' before pouring his heart out in an astonishing sequence of songs about the insecurities that gnaw away at him, the missed chances, the duckes responsibilities and in 'From A Silver Phial' one of the world's greatest anti-drug songs, 'a lion in a fall of rolls' that can only spin downwards. 'Some Misunderstanding' does a similar thing for Gene's love life, where he admits expecting too much and letting himself and his partner down, seeing the world through a 'double vision' of reality and hope that always makes him search for one thing too many. By the time we reach closer 'Lady Of The North' - an exquisite vision of paradise where doubt and uncertainty over our actions have been eradicated - it's clear that Gene has led us on quite an adventure. Clark's vocals might not have quite the space they had on 'White Light' but if you can ignore the effects then they're among his best, purring or growling as the songs demand and clearly shedding light into his soul with an emotion that proves how close to him these lyrics are. The melodies largely take a back seat to the words across this album, but the best of these ('Silver Raven' and 'Silver Phial' especially) are also amongst Gene's best, melodic and memorable in the way that only Gene Clark can be. I'm still not sure if this Gene's best album or even his best set of songs - the quiet thematic unity of 'White Light' is at least it's equal, the mood piece that closes ' Two Sides' even more memoerable and arguiably even the unfinished 'Roadmaster' has better songs one-on-one. But that's all by the bye: there is no other record in The Byrds' canon quite like 'No Other' and it's still a remarkable achievement, with a croaking yet melodic sound quite unblike any other record in musical history, however distracting some of the production and however over-the-top a couple of the songs might go. You do wonder what might have happened had this record finally proved successful: would Gene have ended up in another spiral of success into worry into breakdown into obscurity or would he handled it better the second time round? Would he have been viewed as a mainstream talent rather than a cult figure? Would he have finally mastered the next album, made with the budget of this one but more songs and twice the confidence? Alas, we'll never know.
One other confusing thing about this record is the cover. 'No Other' is a personal, 'inner' album that sounds like it's been torn out piece by piece from Gene's inner psyche and only reluctantly sent blinking into the wider world. In contrast the album cover is glitzy, artificial and pompous, sharing the record's elaborateness but none of its feeling that a 'secret' is being told. Asylum presumably commisioned it before they either decided to hold back on the project or before the album was completes because it really doesn't fit: a faux 1920s collage of Hollywood figures and art nouveaux props that would have suited the fashion-conscious McGuinn-Clark-Hillman records pretty well actually, but not this album at all. The back cover shot, of a bryl-creamed Gene, is also a definite no-no: this record cries out for something moody and magnificent, not moronic.
The music, however, is largely excellent. 'Life's Greatest Fool' is one of the weaker songs, if only because it doesn't fit the sound of the rest of the record, but even that is better than average. The most Dylanesque song in Gene's back catalogue, it deals with the thought that 'winners' and 'losers' are all in the mind-set ('Hard is perception, easier is blame') though even Gene still wonders about all his bad luck, asking 'Is this the way for everyone, is it always the same?' This is an older Clark than the one in the 1960s, 'formed out of pleasure and chiselled by pain', but even so this is a happy sounding song, with a catchy chorus, a delightful pedal steel part from Jesse Ed Davis and a nice country-folk lilt.
'Silver Raven' is gorgeous, a mystical cryptic song that can be read in many different ways but in my eyes is about deathand growing old. The raven has long been an image of doom and traditoonally was seen as a messenger who flew between this world and Hell. Here the raven has been flying so close to the wind for so long that he's going grey, his feathers turning silver as he flies across 'changing rivers, waiting for his turn to die'. Gene then moves on to tackle this theme in a generational sense, with even the 'brave new world' of the 1960s now the 'old world', decaying through apathy and errors, the raven's warnings going unheeded once again. Gene's vocal on this song is spin-etingling, while the understated backing for once on this album works really well, spread out between a gradually unfurling organ part, shimmering acoustic guitars and a bouncy Jesse Ed Davis part that tries to fly away throughout the song but keeps finding itself chained back to Earth.
Title track 'No Other' doesn't have quite the same impact, being more of a chance to show off every studio trick under the sun than a properly defined and thought-out song. Gene's most religious song, this piece reflects that 'The Lord is love' and that this love is unlike mere earthly love because it can see and feel everything. Stumbling blindy back on Earth, the best human beings can hope for is their own personal 'perfection'  - but this is down to the individual and doesn't take into account the bigger picture. Gene is rather buried by a croaking frog of a fuzz bass which makes the whole album sound other-wordly and his lead vocal is played through a 'Leslie cabinet' to sound old and paper-thin (a trick first used by The Beatles, whereby a vocal is recorded through a speaker revolving very fast, sounding as if its 'not all there'; 'Tomorrow Never Knows' being the most famous use of it). A gorgeous if brief Jesse Ed Davis solo is the best thing here, free of all the production shenangians and bursting through the bass-heavy murk with clarity and composure. Alas the song isn't the strongest on the album, though, and the production is that little bit too OTT.
'Strength Of Strings' is another fascinating song, though sadly dragged out to the point where it's torutorusly slow. Lyrically though it's spot on, with Gene using one of his best extended metaphors as he compares his lonely life to a recording: 'I am always high, I am always low', a piano riff searching up and down the keys in seacrh of harmony, like the 'string sections' other songwriters enjoy. Clark may have been influenced by Dylan here - 'strength of strings' was a phrase used in 'Lay Down Your Weary Tune' (the song the Byrds covered on 'Turn! Turn! Turn!') and has a similar extended metaphor about  the act of writing and a difficult life (although if anything Gene out-Dylans Sylan with his superior choice of words and imagery). Gene has never sounded more alone, especially with another electronic effect, and sounds in a different universe to the choir who 'aah' along with him. Many fans love this song best, for me it's a verse short of a classic (there are only two, the first being repeated again at the end) and again sounds better in an alternate, lesser produced take that isn't quite so big or slow.
'From A Silver Phial' is my favourite song on the album, a warm aural hug with Gene's voice back in its proper place front and centre, in contrast to some of the 'colder' intellectual songs on this album. A Gorgeous 'She Don't Care About Time' style melody is a nice accompaniment to some of Gene's most expressive lyrics about addiction and excess. Throughout he sings in the third person, about a female drug addict, although whether for poetry purposes, that it's loosely based on someone else or whether it was too hard to write as autobiography is unclear. There are some gorgeous metaphors here for gradualy losing control, with the hidden message that no one is safe: even the strongest, most confident of us can fall prey to something. The character, for instance, is 'fire on the borderline' whose talent can be used for good or evil, cursed by a restless mind that 'slept inside tomorrow' and whose 'scars' can only be healed by 'time', not thew quick fix she's after. Even the character's decision to turn from drugs and put her faith in the 'moon and stars' comes awry because life lets her down; she only recovers by meeting a 'master' who knows more of life than her and 'seeing through his eyes of pain', but even here, having seen all another person has gone through, the adadiction proves too much and she 'falls in the darkened rain'. An extraordinary set of lyricsa, a beautiful tune and one of Gene's greatest vocals make this one of the strongest candidates in his entire canon, a beautifully expressive song that somehow manages to be both clever and deeply moving.
'Some Misunderstanding' is a lovely personal reflection on guilt and love from Gene that sees him vowing to make amends next time, refusing to fall short of what his partner expects of him whilst similarly promising not to assume she's perfect and allow for her mistakes. Alas the melody on this one is a little too o-e-o-e-odd with a surprise return to a Buddy Holly 1950s hiccup and a lack of variety between the verses and choruses.
Country lament 'The True One' sounds like an outtake from 'White Light' (although it isn't, as far as anyone knows), with a return to the country lilt and light production of that album. It's another of the album's lesser moments reflecting again on Gene's fall from grace and how 'there's a price you pay for going out too far'. Gene isn't sure which of his methods is the 'right one', he's too closely involved to make the best business decisions and finds himself always on the wrong level of his career, 'walking upstairs when I get invited down'. A welcome chance to hear Gene without any studio trickery and another superb vocal are the highlight of a pretty song that's somehow less substantial than most of the rest of the album.
'Lady Of The North' wraps the album up in some style, though, with the fluffiest and most ethereal song on the album, Gene presumably 'eight miles' '...high above the clouds' and imagingin a time when his soul is free of earthly restrictions. In some more of Gene's cleverest words 'the Earth was just a pillow for our dreams' and now, in death, his soul is content to fly away and achieve everything he needs to. Through it all a 'Lady Of The North' (which is an odd description of a place without directions as we understand them, but perhaps Gene simply means up in heaven, 'The North Star', rather than down below in Southern Hell) beckons to him, finally made up of the perfection he's been dreaming of his whole liufe through but never quite finding.
The result is a moving, well thought out album that's easy to get wrapped up in. Gene is on strong form throughout lyrically and vocally, with only a couple of duff songs and a few less than interesting melodies knocking him back. You have to question whether this album might not have been better made with a mere half of the $100,000 budget it was given as the effects do tend to take over from the songds at times, but even this gives the album a sound that's unlike 'No Other' record I've ever known. Is it a long lost classic that everyone needs to own and which should appear in all those 'best ever albums' listings we seem to get five times a year these days? Not quite - it's not even Gene's best work, never mind the single greatest lost album of the 1970s. But 'No Other' deserved a far better fate than it got at the time, and even with such an expesnive budget this album would be cheap at twice the price, an excellent showcase for Gene's many talents that's well worth hearing for anyone whose even a little bit curious about what Clark went on to make after leaving The Byrds. Well out of step with every other record of it's time, perhaps our present age has finallty caught up with this album's beauty, poise, emotion and imagery. At least we got there in the end, eh, Gene? But of course, no doubt he knows that already up there somwhere 'above the clouds' (this reord, more than any other, hints at Gene's spiritual side) and it doesn't always matter when an album gets there, as long as it gets there in the end. Gene knew this as early as 1965 and 'She Don't Care About Time': hopefully 'No Other' will be around at the top of its tree for a long time to come.

Various Artists "Banjoman - The Motion Picture Soundtrack"
(Asylum,  September 1974)
Lonesome Rubin/Battle Of New Orleans/You Ain't Goin' Nowhere/Freigh Train Boogie/T For Texas/Roll Over Beethoven*//Me and Bobby McGee/Mr Tambourine Man*/Black Mluntain Rag/The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down/Diggy Liggy Lo/Blowin' In The Wind/Foggy Mountain Breakdown/Billy Fehr
* = The Byrds
"As long as she got a dime, the music will never stop. Oh it has. That's a shame."
This entry used to be one of the obscurer released on this list, a concert film soundtrack capturing featuring one of the last Byrds concerts from 1973 alongside appearances by Joan Baez, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Earl Scuggs and Rambling Jack Elliott. However the compilers of Byrds box set 'There Is A Season' sensibly included the two Byrds performances of a rather dodgy sounding 'Mr Tambourine Man' and 'Roll Over Beethoven' there so there isn't actually any reason why fans should spend a vast fortune buying this various artists set (no one shines at this tired show). I've never quite understood why The Byrds insisted on including Chuck Berry's classics in their live set lists for so long - it needs to be played by a band who love riffs and power; The Byrds never sounded that comfortable with it really, their McGuinn-led versions generally sounding about as far away from rock and roll as the Pastoral Symphony (and thus being rather unfair on poor Beethoven!) As for 'Tambourine Man', this is the all time worst  officially released Byrds version of the song, which is in danger of making Dylan's squeaky vocal on the original look good. One thing that you can't find very easily is the film itself - not that you particularly need to - which features a very bedraggled Byrds, their beards at their longest, looking rather bored and grumpy. One to miss, really. Oh and strangely enough only Earl Scraggs plays a banjo in any of the performances, The Byrds included - Tambourine Man might have been a better title!

"Roger McGuinn and Band"
(Columbia,  June 1975)
Somebody Loves You/Knockin' On Heaven's Door/Bull Dog/Painted Lady/Lover Of The Bayou//Lisa/Circle Song/So Long/Easy Does It/Born To Rock and Roll
"I grow so weary of this masquerade, I'd like to hide my head and slip away"
'I prefer to forget it. If I could erase that album I would. I'd love to just totally wipe it out. I just couldn't see the wood for the trees at that point. I've had highs and ows in my career and that was just a low point. You have to give me some leeway!' So runs Roger McGuinn (some 30 years post band) discussing 'Roger McGuinn and Band', generally regarded as one of the guitarist's lesser ideas. Distracted by a divorce to wife Linda, a cocaine problem (though nowhere near Crosby's massive scale, still a worry for a generally level-headed man like Roger who'd never done that sort of thing heavily before)and a feeling that his solo career was running away with him, McGuinn has more than enough reasons to be given leeway. 'Peace On You', while a generally impressive album, had been an unhappy experience for him to make and he felt like an 'extra' on his own album. Roger had to re-take control so he did the only thing he knew how to do: he formed a band, but a backing band this time rather than one like the later Byrds that was a sort of 'failed democracy' (with McGuinn hating some of the material given him by the others, but keen not to take control of them). Moving to Los Angeles, McGuinn put together a new cast of players (on the suggestion of new producer John Boylan)  who'd never worked with Roger or indeed each other before: Richard Bowden on second guitar, Stephen A Love on bass, David Lovelace on keyboards and Greg Attaway on drums. Whilst respectable musicians in their own right seperately, with a fair bit of experience between them playing for anyone recording Los Angeles, the band just never quite mixed and this album comes out sounding a couple months short of rehearsal time for them to have gelled.
Things would have been alright had McGuinn been able to write a strong set of songs - but after a third solo album in as many years and after eight heavy years making thirteen albums with The Byrds (and perhaps losing confidence after Bill Halversen's dismissal of his own material), Roger found he couldn't write. Jacuqes Levy, his go-to writing partner for most of the past six years, was busy with old inspiror Bob Dylan, co-writing all but one of the songs on his 1976 ;comeback' album 'Desire'. Jacques was also living in New York, too far away from McGuinn's new base in L.A. to simply drop in on his old friend and swap ideas like before. Roger should perhaps have slowed down, booked some time off to write material and properly drilled his new band qith a quick tour. But for once Roger's trust that 'somehow I know everything will turn out alright' was misplaced: before he quite knew what was happening he was back in the studio again, desperately trying to cut songs he didn't have. Roger only gets four songs on his own album and two of those are re-makes of past successes: a good idea when it comes to a slower, more spacious 'Lover Of The Bayou' but completely misguided with an even worse rendering of 'Born To Rock and Roll' than on the Byrds reunion album (yes, honest you really did read that right -the other version was abysmal and one of the lowerst points in this book, but the re-make is even worse!) Alas the new songs for the record are almost as bad: the trite and oddly teenage 'Lisa' ('Oh Lisa all the boys are talking about you, oh Lisa on the telephone!') and 'Easy Does It' tries to talk about Roger's recent split with his wife, although the chorus 'Don't try to force it or you might just divorce it' is surely grounds for divorce in it's own right.
Not that the rest of the album is much better. What would you do in Roger's shoes with an album to make in a hurry? Record some rock and roll standards? Perhaps some folk standards (as per Roger's later 'Folk Den' set?) Atone for the wooden-ness of the rest of the set with some fierce jamming songs?  Re-record some Byrds standards you didn't write? Or hire Gene Clark to replace you for two weeks again while you have a nice holiday? That's what Roger should probably have done - but what he did do set the seal on this album's reputation forever in the eyes of fans. He recorded five songs that the band had written - even though none of them had ever pretended to be a songwriter before! Yes that's right - after years complaining in The Byrds about the low forms of songwriting brought by the rest of the band (who were on the whole writers even before The Byrds formed in 1965) and even rejecting Crosby's songs, here he is basically handing his pencils over to four hapless youngsters who suddenly have to deliver songs on a level to McGuinn's (albeit a disintegrating McGuinn). What on earth must they have felt? To their credit the band comply, coming up with five songs between them (the best of which, David Lovelace's 'Circle Song', is a direct steal wholesale from Gene Clark's reunion song and yet still comes out sounding the best thing here aside from 'Bayou'). Considering the circumstances they're not that bad actually for first writers, but why on earth was Roger's idea of 'taking control' after a difficult record he felt he had no say on simply handing the keys over to the asylum? The blame doesn't rest entirely on Roger either: someone should have said 'no' or 'are you sure we're ready?' or 'I think you need help!' But Roger was alone, cut off from every single one of his collagues and friends and a lot of his family to boot, isolated in LA and trying to be something he wasn't. The result is the nadir of McGuinn's catalogue for all sorts of reasons and a record many longterm fans prefer to skip. Help is at hand, though, in the unexpected form of Bob Dylan, whose invitation (no doubt through a worried Levy) to have Roger play as Bob's guitarist on a 1976 tour gave him a great way of breaking up the band, ignoring the record and going back into an arena where he was loved without any loss of face (Bob clearly hadn't heard the painful elongated rendition of 'Knockin' On heaven's Door' from this record, then - the single worst McGuinn Dylan cover -  or he might have had second thoughts). Perhaps McGuinn was right after all: somehow everything will turn out alright - or then again perhaps Bob Dylan just works in mysterious ways sometimes.
At least the front cover - Roger smiling in front of a collection of impressive looking state-of-the-art-for-1975 tape decks - is a good one.

The Souther-Hillman-Furay Band "Trouble In Paradise"
(Asylum,  'Mid' 1975)
Trouble In Paradise/Move Me Real Slow/For Someone I Love/Mexico/Love and Satisfy//On The Line/Prisoner In Disguise/Follow Me Through/Somebody Must Be Wrong
* = Chris Hillman compositions
"There's trouble in paradise, the story don't sound too nice, and you just can't sleep at night in a solid gold room"
The general consensus is that the second Souther-Hillman-Furay record is even more of a disaster than the first and this time the record bombed badly, missing the charts completely. However, while the trio still sound far from telepathic (and yet again Richie looks cheerful on the cover while the other two look glum), I find this second album much of a team effort - even J D Souther sounds like he's getting involved this time around (writing dfour of the nine songs here) and Richie and Chris do their usual capable job of backing him and each other up. The mood is still anger, bordering on bitterness, with all three men spending yet more time reflecting on their respective flop bands and wondering where their career goes from here, trapped together in a band none of them want but where none of them can think of anything better. However this is a much more upbeat album, with Souther's country honk title track (the album highlight this time around) setting the tone: it reads like a tragedy but sounds like a comedy, with Richie having fun adding some 'yeehas' and enjoying the 50s rock groove. Manassas pal Stephen Stills turned up to the sessions but was alledgedly too 'wasted' to record anythung usable, satying up late one night alone to 'add some ideas' and discovered the next morning asleep in the control room having emptied the studio mini-bar! Stills was probably far from the only excessive on this album, though, despite Richie Furay's recent conversion to Christianity and his and Al Perkins' growing interest in their faith in this period (Hillman too will convert to Christianity with Perkins' help, though not for a few years yet).
While there's probably even more weak songs here than the first LP, there are better ones too, with Hillman on particularly bright form - which is odd because this album moves ever further away from his natural country-rock feel, dividing itself pretty neatly between soppy pop and funky rock. That said, Hillman's first track 'Move Me Real Slow' is the odd one out on the album, a honky tonk grunge song of all things, with a bar-room piano backed up by a 'burping' bass and some heavy rhythms. I like this song a lot, actually, despite being arguably the least well known Hillman song of the 1970s: there's a pretty tune, a dynamic change between the verses and choruses that catch the hear and Chris and Richie's harmonies suddenly make sense, the pair going together surprisingly well. The slinky 'Love and Satisfy' is even better, a Hillman song intended for the second Manassas album 'Down The Road' but abandoned when Atlantic requested more Stills songs (their version later appeared on outtakes set 'Pieces' in 2009). While it was the right one of the three Hillman songs from that record to get the push, it's still an excellent song and returns to the favourite Hillman theme of the crooks in the record business: just when he thinks he has it 'made', someone turns his head and 'sopins it around' and suddenly he's so trapped by the fame game he's after everything he can get - whether he needs it or not. This version is less interesting than the Manassas version, going for wide open spaces that give it the feeling of an overweight waddle when the original had the sleek physqiue of a panther, but it's still a worthy recording, with Richie's harmonies again particularly spot-on. Finally, 'Follow Me Through' is an even heavier rocker-treated-as-a-ballad. Sadly the song is rather weak, certainly the most anonymous of the three Hillman tracks here, but the recording salvages the song to some extent with some excellent playing from keyboardist Paul Harris (another ex-Manassas man) and arguably the best three-part vocals the S-H-F Band ever come up with.
The result is an album that's not exactly a lost classic but is arguably rather better than it's reputation has long suggested. The brotherhood in the band seemed to be arriving in the studio, at just the point when the band were writing about how it was 'missing' in their songs, with Hillman's contribution on vocals and guitar particularly strong here. The song even ends on a nicely jammed 'salsa' which could have done with lasting a bit longer rather than fading so quick - did Chris pick this techqniue upo from his old friend Stills (who used it all the time?!) With this second record disappearing much quicker than the first and all three members keen to go their own ways before the band became a long-term rather than a short-term affair, the trio quietly folded - a shame given the promise on the best of this record, although in truth there's maybe only two-thirds of a good record between the pair of them. Suddenly, with the dissolution of his fourth band in ten years, Chris was suddenly out on his own for the first time and uncomfortably thrust into the spotlight as a solo artist for the first time. For now, Asylum are keen to keep him and hire him as a 'solo' straight after the trio's dissolution, although for the moment at least Chris won't be quite as sure about his abilities as a frontman as his record company are...
 ‘Roger McGuinn and Band’ (1975). Truly awful. The band sound decidedly pedestrian and their domination of the writing credits – leaving Roger just four songs (two of them re-makes) – is not funny. Especially when one of the recycled tracks, ‘Born To Rock ‘n’ Roll’, was already pretty much the worst Byrds song ever and certainly the weakest on their 1973 reunion LP. However there are two highlights: ‘Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door’ was never my favourite Dylan track but this ambling version does have its moments, whilst the re-make of ‘Untitled’s ‘Lover Of The Bayou’ is nicely raw and dangerous, even if its not up to the Byrds’ original. Still give it a miss though – my ears are still hurting and I haven’t played this album in three years!
Gene Clark "Silverado: Live and Unreleased"
(Bar Ieg,  Recorded February 1975, Released February 2010)
Long Black Veil/Kansas City Southern/For A Spanish Guitar/Home Run King/Here Without You/No Other/Daylight Line/Sewt You Free This Time/She Darkened The Sun/In Thde Pines/Train Leaves Here This Morning/Silver Raven
"I got 12 points just for being in the right place at exactly the wrong time"
The mid-1970s were clearly a key time for Gene Clark fans with the appearance of 'Roadmaster' and 'No Other' and the similarly stunning yet under-rated 'Two Sides To Every Story' waiting in the wings. While Gene's records were still selling poorly he had a strong and very loyal following and finally seemed to have overcome some of the 'demons' that had plagued his live work his Byrds days. This popular bootleg, taped at Coloradpo's Ebbet's Field' in 1975 by an enterprisising fan and sadly in rather poor sound throughout, captures a surprisngly relaxed Gene on good form at the peak of this spike in his interest despite the ignominy of having just been dropped by yet another record company. His fully acoustic set, backed by his new band with the very Gene Clark name 'Silverado' (guitarist Roger White and bassist Duke Bardwell and no drummer for the first time!) is on the one hand a light and stripped down rendition of his back catalogue, clearly done on the cheap, but on the other a fascinating example of Gene's confidence that two guitars, a bass and a harmonica was all he needed to tell a story. There are none of the nerves of his Byrds or even his McGuinn-Clark-Hillman days, Gene pleased to have the spotlight shinging somewhere near him but not squarely on him.
The show starts with the first of three exclusive tracks, the country standard 'Long Black Veil' and Gene's version is surprisingly upbeat and strident, despite the fact that nearly every cover version of this classic song about tragedy, murder and regret sounds downright depressing. Thereafter in the set we get the original 'Daylight Line', which is surprisingly poppy with Gene yet again talking about leaving a city 'because it's gro-a-woah-ing cold' and Gene's collaboration with Bernie Leadon 'She Darked The Sun' which returns to another favourite theme of the 'sun' and 'moon' being celestail 'inspirors', with yet another lover walking out the door and taking Gene's faith in life with her (although like the rest of the set this naturally sad song sounds upbeat and happy here). Elsewhere we get two stunning versions of Byrds songs that sound even more open and vulnerable with the backing of a band (a funky yet spooky 'Here Without You' that sounds not unlike David Crosby's jazzy 'Deja Vu' and a slow and tortured 'Set You Free This Time'). Gene is clearly between projects, with only two tracks from 'No Other' (the album he's meant to be plugging!) including a sublime 'Silver Raven' and an ok version of the title track which sounds quite different without all the effects, plus the two cover songs from his next album 'Story': a fun 'Home Run King' and a bouncier 'In The Pines'.  Elsewhere it's back to Gene's early solo days with a ragged 'Train Leaves Here This Morning', a rather flat 'For A Spanish Guitar' and a sadly rather wet version of rocker 'Kansas City Southern'. Ah well, most of this set is good and if you can get past the tape hiss and the equally lo-fi arrangements of some of these songs then you have a live set that's a joy to behold, the sound of a creative giant on a high, oblivious to the obstacles that have been coming his way the past few years and certain he's onto the right thing. The record company might not have thought it, his audience may not have bought into it and his own band seems to have been chopped in half, but Gene is right - he is onto a good thing here, and how! An unexpectedly excellent live release from a man who at one stage would have done anything to get out of live performances - including quitting the single hottest American band on the planet (that's The Byrds, by the way, if you hadn't guessed!)


Roger McGuinn "Cardiff Rose"
(Columbia,  May 1976)
Take Me Away/Jolly Roger/Rock and Roll Time/Friend//Partners In Crime/Up To Me/Round Table/Pretty Polly/Dreamland
"If it seems that sometimes I've fallen behind, remember I'm running on rock and roll time"
Dissatisfied with his last two records - which were respectively a bit bland and a bit too democractically slanted towards less interedting colleagues - Roger tried hard to bounce back with an album that sounds make him sound cobtemporary once again. If you'd have laid odds on Roger McGuinn becoming the first AAA member to makea punk record - the very year that music changed and a full year before most people realised it - I'd have laughed. Yet here we are two years before the Stones' 'Some Girls' and three before Neil Young's 'Rust Never Sleeps'and The Kinks' 'Low Budget' with as punk an album as a 35-year-old could ever have made in 1976, with vocals that rarely raise beyond a sneer and a texture best described as 'brittle'. This being Roger there's still time for one of his beloved sea shanties, a revisiting of a folk song first tried out on 'Sweethearts Of The Rodeo', the rather over-lush folk song 'Friend' and a Joni Mitchell cover - all of which are the highlights of the record, if only for changing the album's default setting that little bit. The fact remains however - this is an album that's tough and at least loosely in tune with what was going on in music circles (the way The Byrds always used to be) which sound like they would have eaten all of Roger's first three comparatively timid records for breakfast. 
Roger's still writing mainly with Jacques Levy for this album (four songs out of nine), although it's the one song he writes on his own that seems like the 'heart' of this troubled record. 'Friend' is a tribute to fallen comrades unknown which is vague enough to be about either Gram or Clarence (the only two fallen Byrds by this time, both of whom died in 1973) or could be about someone cpompletely un-connected with the music business. The song is clearly abpout someone though - while most of 'Peace On You' and 'McGuinn and Band' didn't really care what it said as long as the tunes and production was good, Roger's first full lyric since ***'Tiffany Lamp' rather sets the tone for an album that's more personal than normal. 'Partners In Crime', for instance, painfully reflects on friends who were once so close losing touch, McGuinn sitting down to write a long letter and realising he doesn't have his friend's new address, so he turns it into a song instead. Shiver me timbers if  'Jolly Roger' isn't a gentle parody song, too, full of all the things McGuinn used to do regularly on Byrds albums and with a title hinting that ev went along with all this to keep his colleague happy! 'Round Table' also pushes further down a road McGuinn has travelled before and will got further down in the future: old folk tales, lovingly restored to resonate in the present day. 'Round Table' (even if this one is an original dressed up to sound like an old song) and the previously attempted 'Pretty Polly' can be considered the start of McGuinn's 'folk den' project that will occupy him for most of the 1990s and 2000s. The choice of cover versions are surprising too: one of Joni Mitchell's better songs makes a riveting closer (interesting that Roger should choose a song by a folk singer his old colleague David Crosby not only discovered but went out with in his last days with The Byrds) , McGuinn reaches out for a Dylan song for ther first time in his solo career (the newer song 'Up To Me', which ironically enough sounds like the anonymous style McGuinn had fallen into during 'Peace On You') and during the album sessions even tried a David Bowie song, 'Soul Love' (one of his least repellant but not really suitable for McGuinn - it appears as a bonus track on the CD re-issue but was probably the right one of these ten to have dropped). The end result is an album not quite as pioneering as the first or as consistent as the second, although there are several excellernt songs and the album marks a major improvement all round on 'Roger McGuinn and Band', ironically featuring much more of the 'real' McGuinn (and a better and more sympathetic band).
'Take Me Away' is an odd and rather shuddery beginning to the record, with McGuinn sounding like a young punk against a background of screaming guitars and tough drumming but singing lines more akin to an old codger (with a chorus of 'oh, you should have been there!')
'Jolly Roger' is much more interesting - a sea shanty that enables Roger to unleash his inner pirate and soemhow manages to sound like a worthy song in it's own right despite having more piratical cliches than 'Treasure Island'. The song easily improves on 'Jack Tarr' by virtue of a tougher take-no-prisoners backing and a grittier McGuinn vocal. Roger and Jacques reportedly installed a 'hammock' into the room they used for writing to get them in the mood to write this song!
'Rock and Roll Time' is a much more successful love story to rock than 'Born To Rock and Roll' and the most 'punk' moment on the record (althoug ironically enough the first version of this song - taped during the making of 'Peace On You' and a bonus track on that album's CD re-issue) was a country song that coudln't have soudned more different! I quite like the original version of this song - this 'new' one is a valid attempt to sound young that nearly comes off, but isn't built for repeated listens. You can't hear the lyrics for a start, which is a shame: the song isn't so much 'it's time to rock and roll' as the idea that when Roger the rocker gets back home he can't switch off or unwind, finding himself 'outside' of normal life, 'running on rock and roll time'. For some reason Jacques Levy loses his co-writing credit from the original version but Kris Kristoffersen gets one instead!
The solo 'Friend' admits 'we're gonna miss you round here' but far from a teary goodbye sounds more like angry denial that the 'Friend' has gone at all. As we said above, I'd love to know who this song was about: my guess is that it is Clarence, who was indeed one of the most careful and cautious rock and roll musicians in the business but who lost his live in a careless accident all the same. The opening lines about a friend owing 'big money' don't fit though: that sounds more like Gram. While not the best eulogy ever written and with an overtly lush fiddle part that literally sounds like the moment a weepy story gets the violins out, 'Friend' is still a good song and one of the album highlights.
'Partners In Crime' is a McGuinn/Levy song that hops around all over the place, starring off as a sweet country-rock numbeer before turning into an infantile bar room saloon number with an 'oh ho ho ho' chorus. Typical of Levy's style but less usual of Roger's, it's an uneasy mix that never quite comes off although there's a good song in there somewhere about the narrator pining for his girlfriend to come out of prison.
‘Up To Me’ is one of Bob Dylan’s less cerebral and rockier songs. A rare case of a 1970s song with a lyric fully by Dylan it came out on ** Roger’s vocal is  his closest mimic yet to his hero’s style and is in truth a little too ‘Dylanesque’ for my tastes. The song is an oddball one too – it sounds like the good beginning to a song that never makes it to the full song, getting stuck over and over in the same groove, the result of which is quite disconcerting.
Round Table’ is much more interesting, with McGuinn the historian returning to the days when men were men, before Byrds were Byrds even, during the time of King Arthur. A slow-burning folk-rocker, this is more like something Pentangle would do, drawing on the storybook democracy and valour of the past and asking why we don’t have it in the present (Was it really all just a myth? Could it ever really happen?)  Sadly the music isn’t quite up to the lyrics and Roger sounds on auto-pilot throughout, but at least it’s an interesting glimpse at doing something different – and what other middle aged rock and roller could possibly spend his ‘punk’ comeback album singing about a subject matter most prog rockers would think twice about?
‘Pretty Polly’ has already turned up in this book once: a favourite folk song of McGuinn’s from the days before the Byrds existed, the band recorded it for ‘Sweethearts Of The Rodeo’ where it was passed over despite being one of the better performances from the sessions (pure folk wouldn’t have fitted on a country-rock album though). Ironically this solo album version features much more of a band performance, with McGuinn on banjo joined by fiddle players, acoustic guitarists and all sorts. Roger turns story-teller for the vocal which is terribly hammy by the end (having started at Robert Newton levels, poor Roger has nowhere to go when the drama gets fuller by the end of the song and ends up Robin Williams at the end). The result isn’t as satisfying as the original – somehow by taking the song more ‘seriously’ the fun of fair maiden Polly who isn’t as fair as she makes out gets lost somehow.
The album then ends with ‘Dreamland’, a better than average Joni Mitchell song from her fairly obscure 'Don Juan's Restless Daughter' album released near-enough contemporaneoudsly with this record (did McGuinn hear an advance copy?)  Roger's version loses Joni's typically jazzy rule-breaking song structure for something a bit more rock (and roll) solid. One of the better tracks on the album, a Clarence White-style feedback drone and some neat production touches makes everything sound suitably hazy while McGuinn copes well with a vocal about the short lines between reality and fantasy that’s well out of his usual comfort zone.
Overall, ‘Cardiff Rose’ is a stranger album than it first appears. A harder-edged album with some of the sappiest moments of McGuinn’s career, it finds him casting around for a new direction after two bland albums but not quite knowing which extreme of the spectrum to go in. Few people who bought this record, with its sea shanty song titles and pretty album cover (a beautiful portrait of a ship at harbour) can have guessed at just how contemporary this record would be and it speaks volumes that after this experiment all is quietly forgotten about sounding ‘fresh’ and McGuinn goes back to his usual country/pop/folk/jazz style. I’m still not sure whether that’s a good thing or not...

The Flying Burrito Brothers "Airborne"
 (Columbia, June 1976)
Out Of Control/Waiting For Love To Begin/Toe Tappin' Music/Quiet Man/Northbound Bus/Big Bayou/Walk On The Water/Linda Lu/Border Town/She's A Sailor/Jesus Broke The Wild Horse
"You drove all the wolves from my door and showed me a love I'd never saeen before"
After Chris Hillman left the band in 1971 a year after Gram Parsons, the resurrection of The Flying Burrito Brothers seemed even less likely than a Byrds reunion. However Gram's much publicised death in 1973 changed everything, turning his legacy in one fell swoop from a cult few people heard at the time to the preachings of an important rock icon. The Flying Burritos especially benefitted from this turn of events and inevitably reformed from 1975 with a pretty underwhelming record 'Flying Again'. In total, counting all the various Burritos spin-offs like 'The Burito Brothers' (1981/1982), 'Sierra' (1977) 'Burrito Deluxe (2002-2007) and 'The Burritos' (2011) there are 26 of their albums around to collect. Given that this would considerably lengthen an already fairly major book we've elected to include only those Burritos albums where more than one Byrd appears. That way we cover the only three Burritos albums you need to own (the first three, featuring Chris Hillman alongside first Gram Parsons, then Michael Clarke) and albums five and six (which effectively reunite the most stable of Byrds line-ups and featuring Gene Parsons - on guitar this time not drums - and bassist Skip Battin), although it's founder members Chris Ethridge and 'Sneaky' Pete Klienow who really give these albums the 'Burritos' flavour. Both men are logical replacementsa, though, given The Byrds' close links with the Burritos and Gene on his own had already contributed the only songs worth hearing from 'Flying Again' (the strangely Scottish sounding ballad 'Wind and Rain' featuring Joe Scott Hill on lead vocals) and the James Taylor-ish 'Sweet Desert Childhood' (which features Gene doing just about everything). The whole band also write their own self-made ending to Parsons' trilogy with 'Hot Burrito #3', although nlost fans agree it sounds more like a pastiche than the heartbreak of the originals. As far as the rest of the album goes, though, this is mere mid-70s schlock which failed to gain new fans and insulted those who'd been around the first time. You dread to think what Gram would have made it of it all - and even the more polite Hillman seems to have treated the album with scorn.
'Airborne', Burritos studio album number five, is a little better. The band still don't sound much like they used to but the addition of Skip Battin to the line-up (instead of founder member Chris Ethridge, who jumped ship after all the bad reviews) helps considerably, offering the band a bigger louder instrumental sound and another vocalist. Gene too is on good form, coming up with another song that might not match up to his best songs with The Byrds ('Yesterday's Train' and 'Gunga Din') but is clearly head and shoulders above everything else here and more closely related to the Gram Parsons/Hillman days.That song is 'Out Of Control'in more ways than one, bringing some rock and roll to the band's sound and features Gene trying to do his best to sound like his name-sake on a tale about a wayward woman who could be the sister of 'Christine'. Elsewhere Gene gets to sing more leads than normal and still sounds in good voice. It's actually the band's other new recruit, fiddle player Gib Gilbeaux (another refugee from Gene's and Clarence White's band 'Nashville West' who guested on that song and Skip's 'You All Look Alike' during The Byrds' years) who comes off best, though, with a full five co-writes across the album including the pretty 'Waiting For Love To Begin' and the rather Roger McGuinn-like reggae-calypso hybrid 'Quiet Man'. Overall 'Airborne' might not be up to the Flying Burritos' band name still, with clearly lowered horizons from the 'good 'ol' days' when the band still wanted to unite the rock and country genres and go where no other band had gone before. However it is at least a superior middle-of-the-road album which is of much interest to fans of The Byrds' later years curious as to where the Gene Parsons-Skip Battin friendship went after both were thrown out of the band. Dare I say it, the result is a lot more interesting than either of the McGuinn or Hillman records out that year...

Chris Hillman "Slippin' Away"
(Asylum, 'Late' 1976)
Step On Out/Slippin' Away/Falling Again/Take It On The Run/Blue Morning//Witching Hour/Down In The Churchyard/Amnesty/Midnight Again/(Take Me In Your) Lifeboat
"It's times like this when it's so hard to see"
A curious mixture of all sorts of elements from Hillman's past with The Byrds (country-psychedelia and rock), Flying Burrito Brothers (country-tonk rock), Souther-Hillman-Furay Band (country-pop) and Manassas (plum everything), I've always come away from Hillman's first record having enjoyed myself whilst feeling slightly underwhelmed. Goodness a lot of time, effort, money and love was thrown at this record and with good reason: after the death of Gram Parsons in 1973 and with CSNY. McGuinn and Gene Clark all currently going through one of their 'unpopular' turns, this was truly Hillman's turn in the spotlight: he'd pushed The Byrds to their creative peak in the mid-60s and had formed one of the cult bands who were growing in stature every year after Gram Parsons' death in the early 70s. Asylum wanted success, so did Hillman and the large and impressive cast of characters he brought in to play on this record: Poco/Eagles star Timothy B Schmidt, Booker T guitarist Steve Cropper and bassist Donald 'Duck' Dunn, future Desert Rose Band star Herb Pedersen, Manassas' Al Perkins, Flying Burrito Rick Roberts and fiddle player Byron Berline.
The record sounds amazing, with the Albert Brothers (Howard and Ron)  - who'd engineered the Manassas records - offering a typically glittering crystal clear sound despite the dense surroundings on the tracks. Stick this record on at any point and you'll be impressed with the sheer listenability and consistency of it all, after two inconsistent years with the Souther-Hillman-Furay Band. Chris clearly has a lot on his mind after a second failed marriage in five years and is in self-discussion mode, wondering where things went wrong and whether the trouble lies with his wives or him. In other circumstances this album's set of lyrics could have been a sort of loose 'John Lennon/Plastic Ono band' album, crying out from the heart about bad personal circumstances, but Hillman is too guarded and vulnerable for that, choosing to record his personal songs with as anonymous a backing as possible. Ironically the only song that sounds emotional is 'Witching Hour', on which Hillman channels a similar dark night of the soul from old partner Stephen Stills.
Certain songs are good then and almost every track has a certain something to recommend, even if it tends to be music or lyrics rather than both. The trouble is, if you play it back to back with anything earlier from Hillman's career and it seems obvious that he's playing it all a little too safe, too content to rest on his laurels. Even when The Flying Burrito Brothers (and The Byrds to some extent) fell down and messed up, they did so in an interesting manner, over-reaching themselves with an idea so grand and audacious nobody could have rightfully pulled it off. For many of their reviews in this book they get marks for trying, even when the results aren't quite there. 'Slippin' Away' is the opposite of this: it does work as an album and often a very pretty album, but it loses marks for not even recognising there is a box to think out of and tends to work much better when heard in bits and pieces rather than across 35 odd minutes. At least Hillman and Knobler were prolific across this album, writing every song bar two. Unfortunately for them these are the highlights, simply for breaking up the sound and style of the album so much: the first is a terrific cover of a leftover (and painfully honest) Stephen Stills song from the Manassas era 'Witching Hour'; the second a striking and rather raw reading of traditional song 'Take Me In Your Lifeboat' . Had the album been more like this it might have been an excellent record indeed - but otherwise middle of the road country is about as daring as this record gets. Remember, 'The Notorious Byrd Brothers' album was only eight years ago...
First up is 'Step On Out', a pleasant enough rocker that sounds like the femme fatale of 'Christine's Tune', now married and a housewife but still ken to 'step on out' on the town every now and again. Some clever lyrics from Knobler ('Seems like she's seen it all before - and what she ain't seen she's heard of!') are offset by a rather anonymous Hillman melody.
Title track 'Slippin' Away' is one of the album highlights, a sleepy Hillman song about his latest marital breakup and his gradual realisation that it's over. Contrasring the happy times of yesteryear with the uncomfortable present, it's a curious song whose laidback quiet charm on the surface is in heavy contrast to the lyrics of angst when you analyse the song fully. A lovely pedal steel solo from Al Perkins is the song highlight.
'Falling Again' is alsopretty but pretty unspectacular, this time with a lovely see-sawing melody let down by some rather anonymous words about 'being blind to the truth, lost and alone' as another lover dances her way out of the narrator's life without even a backwards glance.
'Take It On The Run' shares the same slinky groove of many of the 'Trouble In Paradise' songs, with several funky Hillmans competing with each other in the chorus. In truth though this is a riff not a song, with some lame bland lyrics about politicians, lovers and friends all conspiring to let the narrator down despite ';working like a dog the last 15 years' - the length of time Hillman had been a professional musician at the time.
'Blue Morning' maintains the theme of travel from the Souther-Hillman-Furay days, a weary Chris imagining his life as a long and winding road with nothing to keep him going but his 'dreams'. He knows his way of living is hard on his loved ones, leaving him away from home for long periods of time, but he still believes that a happier future can be theirs soon. Sadly a rather bland country backing doesn't do this fine set of words the justice it deserves.
'Witching Hour' is what a stunning, poignant song sounds like and is head and shoulders above everything else here. Written by Stephen Stills towards the end of the 'Manassas' first album sessions, it was rejected by it's author after a Manassas rehearsal (as heard on 2009 outtakes set 'Pieces') for being 'too personal' and revealing. Given the amount of heartbreaking Stills has given us down the years that's quite a claim, but it's true: this is the 'bag of nerves' at Stills' heart, not the confident musician we all see in charge on stage. Stills admits that he always pours his heart into his songs, that 'some people love him for it - while others say he ain't got no right' and that something odd always happens to him past Midnight, when everyone is asleep and he's left with his own nervy company, reminded of all his doubts and fears. The song is clearly too good to waste and Stills must have been pleased when Hillman offered to sing it, thus directing attention away from the author. However Hillman's version lacks the mystery and fear of Manassas' version and only the addition of a dramatic string section really adds anything to the song, which is still best heard on 'Pieces'.
'Down By The Churchyard' is another song from Hillman's past, having been first recorded for 1970 album 'Burrito Deluxe'. It sounds rather anonymous here, after both the power of the last song and rather soppy 'white reggae' arrangement Hillman gives it here. That's a shame because the song itself deserves a second hearing, telling the tale of a broken elderly man somwhow forcing his way to the graveside of one of his friends, knowing he'll be joining him soon (by contrast the music makes it sound like a summer holiday outing!)
Doumas' lovely song 'Amnesty' is something of an AAA standard, also covered by The Hollies on their 'A Crazy Steal' album two years later. Figuring that love can bring peace to the worst of situations and that the knowledge that two warring factions can be united by their belief in another would clearly have a powerful effect for someone at the end of their second marriage, but once again the song floats along slowly rather than soaring the way that such a powerful statement should.
'Midnight Again' is the last Hillman original on the album and one of the better songs here. Chris' narrator finds himself alone again, pounding the streets 'in search of a good friend' and lamenting at one stage that 'this loneliness is killing me!' While it's sad to hear the naturally bouncy Hillman so unhappy, it does wonders for his songwritng craft with his vocal on this song full of the passion and energy we could have done with more elsewhere. The slow chugging blues nature of the song isn't the best vehicle for such a tough, brittle set of words however.
The albums ends with the spoof-traditional folk song 'Take Me In Your Lifeboat', where Hillman puts all his Flying Burritos and Manassas background to good use. The song starts as an acapella folk traditional before going into heavy country, Hillman pleading for a rescue from 'this raging storm'. Once again, though, this very real emotion is diverted thanks to the yee-ha hoedown natue of the backing, although it's still highly memorable with Hillman's mandolin and Byron Berline's fiddle bouncing off each other nicely.
The result is an interesting album, offering much insight into Chris'character on the one hand - and taking it away with the rather bland backing with the other. As the titrle suggests, this could have been a great album - but there's a sense of that greatness 'slippin' away' across the record as one track sounds like another. Not that this is a truly bads record; having never filled a whole album before it's impressive that there's at most two 'filler' tracks on this album and Hillman is in good voice throughout. The trouble is it's just so mid-1970s soft rock that this record could be by anyone and Hillman's distinctive stamp from his Byrds, Burritos and Manassas days is rather lacking. Thankfully Hillman's second attempt at this same style will largely put this right, with a similar sense of commercial style along with some rather more passionate performances...


Roger McGuinn "Thunderbyrd"
(Columbia,  March 1977)
All Night Long/It's Gone/Dixie Highway/American Girl/We Can Do It All Over Again//Why Baby Why?/I'm Not Lonely Anymore/Golden Loom/Russian Hill
"Why did it end so soon?"
In 1977 three Byrds got together for a tour, together with the inevitable and inevitably brief reunion at the end of their three sets. Although McGuinn Clark and Hillman had clearly undertaken the tour for financial reasons - why play to smaller audiences when you can draw bigger crowds simply by putting up with 20 minutes of forced smiles every night - there was a sense that it was the best thing most of the trio had done in years. Gene Clark, fresh from 'No Other' and the unfinished rarities set 'Roadmaster' was on top form as the opening act, winning fans over with his surprisngly rocky and covers-filled set. Chris Hillman was next and wowed the crowds even further, having just completed work on his solo masterpiece 'Clear Sailin' (out near the end of the tour) and with the Manassas set lists still the centrepiece of his show. Hopes were high that chief Byrd Roger McGuinn, due to appear last, would wow the fans even further - but Roger had fallen into a bit of a slump. Frustrated with how all his solo albums since the first had turned out, you get the sense that Roger had has admitted defeat for album number five and is merely recording material as easily and simply as possible. Had Roger toured this album on his own fans might not have noticed quite so much, but heard back to back with Gene's and Chris' work (and the glorious 'Lover Of The Bayou', Roger's one sop to the past in his solo spot) 'Thunderbyrd' seemed weaker than it usually would have done. Despite the title, the first time any of the Byrds actively looked back to the past on a solo project (though not the last) this is still a terribly un-Byrds like album, almost as if Roger is refusing to go back to his strengths simply because he's tired of his Byrds past. This is a terribly anonymous record that could have been made by anybody,  again without even the use of the Ricknebacker to differentiate it from what other people were up to 1977. Roger's mixture of folk and country has been replaced by mind-numbing synthetic pop played at different speeds and there's even less original material here than on the other records (with Roger getting just four co-writes this time around). Not until the unusual closing number 'Russian Hill' does McGuinn actually push himself at all and record a song that fans can honestly, hand on heart, say they remember after the record has stopped playing. Even promising material like Tom Petty's 'American Girl' and 'Golden Loom', one of Dylan's best songs for a long time**, all but disappear in their new anodyne settings.
The good news is that this album is both more 'normal' and more consistent than 'Cardiff Rose'. There are no sea shanties this time around, no traditional folk tales re-told with a dramamtic leer and no mid-life crisis attempt to become a punk. In many ways, though, you wish there was: it's not that 'Thunderbyrd' is a bad LP so much as a lifeless one. As an extreely general rule the better AAA albums tend to be the ones that have wildly varied tempos, sounds and settings (the very best ones coming with an extra level of 'unity' that hang such disaparate spounds together). There's veery little change across 'Tunderbyrd' from the first note to the last: everything is at walking pace, i.e. not charging ahead with power and fury and things to say or breaking down in the middle of the road with a sob. There's no real urgency here or sense of development. Roger could and should have done betterand this record's 'failure' will be the last straw for him, causing a 13 year gap in his discography as he turns to heavy touring and re-thinks his next move.
The album starts with a cover of Peter Frampton's 'All Night Long'. A wild and woolly rocker designed to be sung to a pack of baying fans in stadiums, the original is empty-headed but compelling fun. Roger's version sounds like it was made by Frampton's granny - a relic from yesteryear that doesn't quite understand what it means to rock 'all night long'. Not quite as bad as 'Born To Rock and Roll' but not that far behind, it's a mistake the record never quite recoveres from.
McGuinn's own 'It's Gone' is much more interesting, with some fine guitar work and some lively drumming. Jacques Levy's lyrics talk about loneliness in touching clipped sentences ('No more you in my empty bed') and while there's as little urgency and drama in this song as in the last track the song rattles along quite nicely. Worryingly this average track is the second best thing on the entire record.
Roger and Jacques also wrote 'Dixie Highway', a bar room rocker with a nice riff but ridiculously cliched lyrics: from the title alone you at home could probably write a better set of words than the ones the usually reliable Levy came up with. A driving song without much drive, it's another curiously low key effort.
Tom Petty's 'American Girl' is at last a decent song. The fututre Travelling Wilbury was, in 1977, a young buck only just beginning to make his name. Petty wore his love for The Byrds on his sleeve, though, and the choice is one of the better fits for Roger on this album. However the wall of chiming ringing guitars on the original has been replaced by something that bit more ordinary and this cover version while accurately re-created somehow misses out on all the fun of Petty's version even while all the boxes have been ticked: the difference between re-twlling a joke because it made you giggle and re-telling it because someone in the room laughed.
'Why Baby Why?' is at least a song well suited to the low key no frills arrangements of the album. A retro George Jones song that doesn't say much, it's slightly preferable to 'So Fine' from 'Farther Along', but only just.
Roger's third song 'I'm Not Lonely Anymore' is a slight improvement though, featuring a proper tune, some nice guitar playing (but slide, not Rickenbacker) and some witty lyrics ('I can sing like a Byrd!' McGuinn chuckles to any fans who get the joke). Alas this song is missing the hook and the strong chorus it needs to tie everything together and like much of the album tends to drift past not doing much.
'Golden Loom' is an oddball Bob Dylan song (is there any other kind?) , first released on his'Bootleg Series Volume 1-3'. A slight return to McGuinn's early blues days, it features a nicely gritty vocal and an almost Dire Straits-ish guitar line. Like many a Dylan lyric, though, much of it is incomprehensible: what's the signifigance of the golden loom the narrator's beloved keeps in her room? If you didn't know better you'd think it was just in the lyric because it happened to rhyme...
Closing number 'Russian Hill' finally adds a bit of emotion and class to the record. Roger and Jacques' clever song pushes McGuinn to his limits, singing an unusual stream-of-consciousness lyric about a dream using a vocal that's close to falsetto. A slow burning epic, it seems like a 'proper meal' compared to the other bite-size chunks even though you're not quite sure what it means (no wonder Bob and Jacques worked together so closely - their styles are highly similar!) One reading of the lyric though is that Roger is looking back over his career, puncturing his celebrity status for the first time since 'Rock and Roll Star', with the odd announcement 'it's the singer - not the tune'.
Overall, then, 'Thunderbyrd' is worth owning just for this one song if you can find it cheaply enough - although the album sold poorly and is quite difficult to find. Whether the record is worth the effortt searching out depends on how much of a 'McGuinndian' you are and whether you enjoyed the other LPs. What's more this rather good return to form somehow manages to buck the trend and become the worst of three BYrds solo albums released in the magical year of 1977 (four if youc count the 'CSN' record with several Crosby classics). I bet you didn't see that coming!

Gene Clark "Two Sides To Every Story"
(RSO,  June 1977)
Home Run King/Lonely Saturday/In The Pines/Kansas City Southern/Give My Love To Marie//Sister Moon/MaryLou/Hear The Wind/Past Addresses/Silent Crusade
"We talk and hear about loneliness, the cold blue hunger of the soul"
When are record buyers going to learn, Gene was always right. Dismissed at the time as something of a let down after the hugeness of 'No Other' and selling even fewer copies, Clark held out to his dying day that his lowest of low budget sequels 'Two Sides' was his solo masterpiece. The album has had a similarly chequered career to it's predecessor: ignored on release, buried by RSO and long deleted it's had to wait even more years to be properly released on CD (2014 to be exact, three years after it wad girst announced - it's one of the last twenty or so AAA albums to come out on compact disc) and yet seems to have gathered only about a hundredth of the praise. Like Gene, though, I consider this album the closest to a truly great work which might not stretch music boundaries quite as far but is easily his prettiest, loveliest solo work. Yes a lot of the first side is filler, full of cover songs and re-treads of old songs - disappointing for an artist who hadn't made anything in three years (back when this was a lifetime for working musicians, not the poncy gap Bono has between songwriting sessions) and who once wrote a song every week - but oh that second side is one of the most haunting, poignant, under-rated twenty minutes in all Byrds-dom. Two Sides To Every Story indeed - Gene even got the title spot on.
Even more than his other albums, 'Two Sides' reveals Gene to be a master singer as well as songwriter. With so many slow ballads and so much space for vocals, Clark blossoms here as a vocalist like never before, finally giving in to the tender tendencies he's largely hidden during his other projects (where he was too busy acting 'cool' for The Byrds or developing a proper solo career - by contrast you get the feeling Gene has all but given his dreams of stardom after the 'failure' of 'No Other'). There's been one major development in Gene's life in this period - the return to his life of Terri Messina, one of the many girlfriends he'd dated in the mid-60s but had been 'frightened off' by the other Byrds. Having largely given in to his worst excesses since 1974 (Gene turned to the booze and drugs heavily rather than recreationally, slowed down his writing and put on a lot of weight), Messina gave him something to get well again for and most importantly someone who seemed to be there for him no matter what (although a decade of relapses on the pair do split, Gene pining for her effecticvely the rest of his life in song). For now, though, Gene is love for the first time in years (at least judging by his songs) and it's interesting how so many of Gene's songs written for this album manage to go from being largely about himself and his inner cosmic debates to the world turning all around her. As usual Gene takes his inspiration from the weather, sounding not unlike Michael Fish at times across his albums (substitute for your local weatherman for the joke to work!) as he ponders the sun, the stars and the 'white light' that drive him on. This time Gene relates the inspiration from the 'moon' and the 'wind' to the new love in his life, with the album also full of sound effects more common to a 'meditation' CD (or one of Crosby's nautical themed solo albums). Most beautifully Gene ends the album with two out and out classics, acknowledging his often wayward past and vowing to be better, his heart 'the ruler of my mind' and 'my dreams the wings of a spirit' trying to overcome his earthly bonds. Gene was always a poet but he excels himself with 'Past Addresses' and 'Silent Crusade', his last published songs for another seven years or so.
Of course, this being a Gene Clark album, 'Two Sides' is far from perfect. At times the album is so light on sound and instruments that it makes 'White Light' souynd overproduced and the whole run-out-of-money look is quite brilliantly, if sadly, summed up by the cover where a near hobo-looking bearded Gene leans un-naturally against a park bench, as only Gene can. (Incidentally, what is the signifigance of the chuildren's spinning top to his right - is it a clue as to how his life has gotten out of control? A coment on his feelings of being in love? A reference to his newly found domesticity? His metaphor for an unstoppable force that runs through all of mankind? Or was it simply left there by whoever was sitting on the bench before him?!) The rockers on this album suffer in particular - 'Kansas City Southern' is a pale re-make of the version from the second Dillard/Clark album and 'Home Run King' is unconvincing country-rock better suited to the Flying Burritos. But enough of this albu works to make hearing it a joyous and moving experience that far from sounding like 'No Other' without the budget may even beat it in terms of song-on-song brilliance.
As discussed, 'Home Run King' is a rather disappointing place to start even if there's a nice similie in the chorus (Gene dividing the world into 'newspaper boy' wannabes or famous baseball player 'Babe Ruth', doomed to change the world or not depending on their lot in life). The hoky bluegrass playing really doesn't suit Gene though, especially when played with all the attack and subtlety of a rock song.
'Lonely Staurday' is fairly full-on country too, although at least gene has the voice for a full on weepy complete with pedal steel guitar from Al Perkins (making this the third exc-Byrd he'd worked with after Chris and Gram). In this song Gene gets a note that his lover is saying goodbye, finding 'time on my hands' for the first time in his life and not knowing how to fill a lonely weekend. A little anonymous by Clark standards, but still nicely done.
Most fans are'nt keen on Gene's uptempo yee-hah version of traditional sob story 'In The Pines' either, but for me iyt's the best subversion of what a song used to stand for since Neil Young turned 'Oh! Lonesome Me' into a ballad. Gene reunites with Doug Dillard who steals the show with a jaw-dropping banjo part but it's Clark's voice that gets the atmopshere just right.
'Kansas City Southern' tries to pose and allow gene to strut his stuff in true rock God style, but somehow the heavier harder-edged sound make this track more parody than heartfelt powerplay. The lighter version on 'Through The Morning, Through The Night' seems much better suited to this tale of nostalgia and heading back home (Gene was indeed born in Kansas State).
Thankfully a mixed first side ends on a classic with the gorgeous six minute weepie 'Give My Love To Marie'. The first Byrds song about coal miners since 'The Bells Of Rhymney', this old contemporary piece by folk singer James Talley sounds like it should have been around for at least a century. Doomed to an early grave, with his six children doomed to follow him there, the narrator is feeling sorry for himself and has little to show for his efforts. He still loves his wife dearly, though and promises to out a light in her window so she knows he's safe, finally dying of 'black lung' in the last verse. While the effect is a little OTT with a full orchestra accompaniment Clark is rarely better, emoting without exaggerating.
From hereon in we get a near unbroken stretch of Clark classics. 'Sister Moon' is one of the best, a heartfelt song for Messina whose clearly his soulmate: a moon that shines with inspiration and purpose to complement his sunshine like 'white light' (though everyone hears the line as 'I am your son' Gene actually means 'sun' here). It's a joy to hear Clark this happy and the melody is one of his most gorgeous, growing from tender delicate ballad to powerr pop chorus by the middle, Gene promising that from now o their lives are intwined - that 'you never need to be back home' (actually that's a bit rich - in real life Gene had no plaxce to stay so moved in with her!)
Many fans dislike the rather shouty cover of Obie Jessie's 'Marylou' too, but while it sounds rather out of place on this otherwise peaceful second side I prefer this recording to 'Kansas City Southern'. Gene is convincing as the hard done by narrator, ruined by 'the kind of woman who loves making a fool out of you'. By the end of the song she's robbed him blind, much to Gene's horror!
'Hear The Wind' returns to the discussion of love as a meterology forecast, Gene claiming to be 'your reflection' as two soulmates sit discussing their respective 'hungers' for everything in life they never got to have. There are worries about not being compatible here already, with the sun setting never a happy Clark metaphor however pretty it seems, but Gene brushes them aside as he's happy in the here and now - he can already hear the wind driving him on to happiness. Perhaps slightly less original than 'Sister Moon', this is still another very pretty track with some mor eexcellent pedal steel playing and a gorgeous hum of a Gene Clark vocal.
'Past Addresses' is one of the most beautiful expressions of guilt in the AAA canon. Having gone too far in an argument the narrator is pained to see his loved ones hurt because of him - 'in the pains of fear'. Gene admits that he'll probablyu do it again, that 'the tomorrow the trial of life is going to fall' and that based on 'past addresses' rehabilitation doesn't look good. But by God he'll try, his life force now inextricably lionked to the bitter tears that fall from her eyes. Gene's Dylanesque lyrics are rarely better than here, saying so much in such a detailed way (sample line: 'The shadows of your motions lingered way beyond the statements I intended, timed').
The album then drifts away with 'Silent Crusade' , a beautiful song ushered in by the noises of the sea as Gene compares his life to a journey at sea, tossed about by waves he doesn't understand (weirdly this album came out the exact same month as 'CSN' with it's opening Crosby tale 'Shadow Captain', where a darker subconsciousness takes over David's quto-pilot control almost without him knowing; compare that song's 'who guides this ship?' with this song's 'Who can guide that ship about?' Spooky!) Gene's back in mystical mode again, claiming that the truth that's hidden behind people's eyes say much more than words ever can and that all human vessels need inspiration to lift their sails and angel wings to let them fly. Once again he's more than happy to have found someone who can do both but leaves the end of the tale left unspoken, 'casting away from the shore'...drifting far away from the wordy and worldly explanations'. The result is a song even more powerful than 'No Other' closer 'Lady Of The North' full of sumputous Gene Clark poetry and more of his voice at it's finest.
The end result is an album of two halves, then. 'Two Sides' doesn't have the consistency of 'White Light' and song by song doesn't quite match 'No Other' or even outtakes set 'Roadmaster'. But when this album is at it's peak, as on 'Sister Moon' 'Past Addresses' and 'Silent Crusade' even the least supportive fan will be struck by how much more beauty there is in the world when you own a Gene Clark album. The man who gave us suns and moons and winds as examples of his inspirations and drives ends up creating an album that tugs both ways, full of aching sadness and regret and full of the sunniest, loveliest moments in his canon. taken together, 'Two Sides' ends up a magical rainbow, a promise hanging in the sky not that the worlds will never be flooded with tears again (he knows that sadness and grief stalk him even at it's happiest) but that he has a second chance at happiness. The result may be temporary (Messina is already gone  by the time of next album 'Firebyrd' although much of that record is still clearly written for her) and Gene may be a mere 14 years away from dying a sadly predictably lonely and needless death, exaggerated by if not caused by his heavy living and substance abuses. But that doesn't prevent this magical moment of clarity and happiness from representing Gene experiencing that white light at it's fullest, with 'Two Sides' his most dazzling - if at times his most ordinary - album. More people deserve to hear this record, a beautiful work that might not quite be Gene's masterpiece but is certainly one of them.

Chris Hillman "Clear Sailin'"
(Asylum,  'Late' 1977)
Nothin' Gets Through/Fallen Favourite/Quits/Hot Dusty Roads/Heartbreaker//Playin' The Fool/Lucky In Love/Rollin' and Tumblin'/Ain't That Peculiar?/Clear Sailin'
"Seems like everybody's got an answer - and nobody's got a plan"
Traditonally Hillman's second solo album is dismissed as much as his first - bland versions of bland songs and with an inspid and slick production to the point where I don't think I've ever read a good review of this LP. To some extent that's right - this is another very uneven LP that occasionally falls flat on it's face in the need to sound like everybody else no matter how boring that makes it. However when this album is at it's best - as on the three big ballads at the heart of this album - Hillman has rarely been more moving or more truthful. In a way this is Hillman's version of the 'Manassas' album without the genre-dancing but with the same outpouring of grief over yet another broken heart and a flagging career. Yes the disco tunes suck big time and the very mid-70s production tries hard to make this the anonymous sell-out LP everyone is telling Chris to make. But in those three songs ('Fallen Favourite' 'Rollin' and Tumblin' and 'Clear sailin' itself) Hillman makes easily the most moving recordings of his career full of quotable lyrics and moving melody lines. This is a vulnerable side of the generally upbeat Hillman we've never really seen before, a world full of 'faded denim and broken dreams', of crying in the night 'when there's nobody there' and 'feeling buried alive...makes me want to shrivel up and die'. For these three songs Hillman records an album easily the match of McGuinn's and Clark's returns to form in 1977 (heck, let's throw in 1977's 'CSN' album too)and in it's own way 'Clear Sailin' is a more powerful record than any of these three already pretty powerful records (this was a great year to be a Byrds fan and not just because of the McGuinn-Clark-Hillman reunion!) The difference is that unlike Roger (whose bravely trying out a new sound), Crosby (whose bravely returning to an old one he's been avoiding for years) or Gene (whose been desperately trying to make an album for years that no one wanted to put out) Hillman follows his major songwriting breakthrough with a slick pop song and a random Carole Bayer Sager tune.
To be fair, though, even these lesser moments only sound lesser because of their surroundings. Heard back to back with 'Slippin' Away' (a record which played it so safe it hurt) even these cover songs have a depth and a certain 'strangeness' to them that 'Slippin' only had at the very end (with 'Lifeboat'). That Bayer Sager tune 'Heartbreaker' for instance does exactly what you'd expect it too - but then adds a powerful guitar-led tagline that hints at the deeper primordial howling only sketched out on the surface. Danny O' Keefe's song 'Quits' is rather thrown away with all those swirling harmonies and all but is actually just a soft touch on a tough version.  Even Hillman (and co-writer Peter Knobler)'s lesser songs for this album like 'Play The Fool' and 'Nothin' Gets Through', while bland pop songs, are at least more memorable than the bland pop songs written for the Souther-Hillman-Furay or the McGuinn-Clark-Hillman years. Even the one happy tune here, 'Hot Dusty Roads' is a miscast pretty singalong rather than the cringing odd-one-out track it ought to appear. Somehow even the album cover - a simple shot of Hillman flying a kite - seems brave, or at least braver than it might have been: flying kites isn't exactly a 'cool' rock and roll past-time and yet it fits Hillman's who - partly through the influence of Gram Parsons - has often written about wind currents buffeting his characters about and blowing them onto new directions. The difference here is that, while Parsons was content to stay maudlin and nostalgic, the bouncier Hillman can't keep himself down for too long, ready to sail every nasty breeze that comes his way. Even so, it's for those three gorgeous heart-felt ballads that this album should be remembered for and the main reason that I for one cherish this record which sits right up there with 'White Light' 'Roger McGuinn' and 'If Only I Could Remember My Name' in my affections despite being lesser known and more ridiculed than any of them. Ain't that peculiar?
Hillman and Knobler's 'Nothin' Gets Through' features a sorrowful set of lyrics ('As lonely as a minesweeper' is the arresting first line) set to a bouncy tune with a power-pop chorus about how every emotion and feeling the narrator tries to get across to his girlfriend fails. Alas the song soon turns into a list rather than a song but there are some good lines and the feeling of frustration comes over loud and clear.
The classy 'Fallen Favourite' is a fascimating song. Laidback and lazy on the verses before the tension of the chorus hits, most songwriters would have settled for making this two separate songs but sticking both different parts together gives this tune added depth. Claiming that his loved one is merely 'living', not 'living and learning' and that her 'sharpshooter eyes have gone aimless', ignoring the pain he's in, the song is filled with heartbreaking metaphors from empty stages to the lover's dance that's dying down as the music fades.
Danny O'Keefe's 'Quits' may be dressed up to sound like a cute puppy but it's a wolf behind all that gloss. You can see why Hillman would have reached out for it at this point in his life and the lyrics - if not the twee production - suit him well: 'This isn't marriage any more, call it new call it different - it's not how it was before'.
The joyous 'Hot Dusty Roads' may well be Hillman trying to sit down and sound like old pal Stephen Stills (who'd written a song of the same name for the first Buffalo Springfield record in 1966). Both songs use the tried and tested metaphor of a road representing a lifespan but this one also uses Stills' usual trick of trying to keep busy to avoid the pain of something the narrator doesn't want to focus on. The song tries hard to be happy but even this song's dreams of freedom are ultimately short-lived.
'Heartbreaker' is a Carole Bayer Sager song better lnown from Dolly Parton's cover version from the following year (it's the title track of her 'Heartbreaker' album in fact, one of her bigger sellers). Hillman's version is less gauche yet still artificial, hardly in keeping with the honest confessional tone of the rest of the album. The song does take off near the end, though, thanks to a false ending and a nice Latyin style fadeout with lots of guitar solo-ing, Hillman clearly learning from his Manassas days.
'Playin' The Fool' is a bouncy Hillman/Knobler original that's ,musically upbeat but lyrically ready to throw in the towel. She's not only thinkling of going in this song, she's out the door with her bags packed so Hillman tries to plead with her to stay one last time. Alas the comedy chorus doesn't reallty fit this song of heartbreak and result is more than a loittle disjointed.The riff's a good one though.
'Lucky In Love' repeats the same formula but with a little more garce this time around. The narrator thinks he's lucky, claiming he can 'take' the amount of hartbreak he's gone through unlike some poor people out there. However this soon proves to be an 'I'm Not In Love' style piuece of denial, with a lot of unexpfressed anger bursting through the chorus  ('You ruined the chances that I just wasn't taking!')
The classy 'Rollin' and Tumblin' is the clear album highlight, as the title suggests rising and falling between several different sections as if reflecting on the many stages of Hillman's marriage (it ends suddenly just as things are sliding downhill again, suggesting that there's still some slight hope). Veering between light, shade and overpowering darkness, the song seems doomed to this vicious cycle, Hillman 'crying at night when there's nobody there' and looking back over 'love letters hidden from no one', wondering how it all got so wrong so quickly. A stunning performance from Hillman's assembled cast of session musicians  and a sensitive orchestral arrangement make this easily Hillman's prettiest composition and a highlight of his live show for many years to come.
Obscure Smokey Robinson cover 'Ain't That Peculiar?' tries hard to lighten proceddings but this nod forward to the sort of thing Hillman will be doing on the 'McGuinn/Hillman' album of 1981 is pretty average stuff. At least it's nicely played averager stuff though, with the playing a cut above most of the 'Slippin' Away' album, but while this tale of heartbreak fits the album mood Hillman writes much better songs himself.
The album then ends with one final autobiographical lament with title track 'Clear Sailin'. Reflecting that 'everybody's got an answer, but nobody's got a plan' Hillman vows to carry on, looking forward to the next 'Hickory Wind' style lifechange to come his way. That said, Hillman still sounds very down here, adding honestly that this new alien experience in his life has left him feeling 'buried alive' and that even religoion won't help. Still a good decade or so from his conversion (and perhaps with half an eye on Roger McGuinn's and Richie Furay's) Hillman says 'I'm turning my back on you Jesus' before adding sorrowfully 'and I hope that you understand', claiming to see 'Satan's sign' in his current predicament. The result would have made a fabulous Flying Burrito Brothers song, with it's country-rock lament and lyrics of heartbreak, but the song is also as heartfelt as the best of the rest of the album, a testament to Hillman's writing skills.
Overall, then, 'Clear Sailin' is a mixed LP but still represents a major leap forward from Hillman's first record, with a good half album of excellent original songs that emotionally explore Hillman's yurbulent personal life. Far from being another one of those disposable mid-70s country-prog-rock albums, the slick and polished production can't mask the sheer grit and realism of many of the best songs.  Hillman and writing partner Peter Knobler are at their peak as songwriters here and of all pof Hillman's many post-Byrds albums this is the one that's most satisfying; not on every track perhaps but on enough songs to count. Now that Gene Clark's ouevre has (thankfully) been re-appraised and better celebrated following his sad death that leaves 'Clear Sailin' as the Byrd solo album that has been most unfairly underlooked and over-valued.

Roger McGuinn, Gene Clark and Chris Hillman "Three Byrds Land In London"
(Strange Fruit, Recorded 1977, Released February 1997)
Gene Clark's K C Southern Band: Kansas City Southern/Denver Or Wherever/Release Me Girl/Hula Bula Man
Chris Hillman: Hot Burrito #2/Rise and Fall (Unlisted)/Nothing Gets Through/Rollin' and Tumblin'/Play The Fool/Quits/Witching Hour/It Doesn't Matter - Both Of Us (Bound To Lose)
Roger McGuinn's Thunderbyrds: Lover Of The Bayou/American Girl/Mr Spaceman/Why Baby Why? -Tiffany Queen/ Golden Loom/It's Gone/Chestnut Mare/Dixie Highway/Shoot 'Em
McGuinn-Clark-Hillman: So You Want To Be A Rock and Roll Star?/Mr Tambourine Man/Eight Miles High
"Through the long dark night we kept our hopes held high, hoping to hear what we'd all been praying for...After all these years of trying, tell me is it really worth it all to rise and fall?"
The first stirrings of what became the McGuinn-Clark-Hillman reunions took place in 1977 when three foundig members of The Byrds played together on stage for the first time in public since 1968 (when, for a six week spell, Clsrk was Cropsby's replacement). I still can't decide whether the reunion was a big con designed to extract money as shamelessly as possible or a brave but doomed attempt at three old friends trying to bury the past while proving they still had a relevence in the 1970s. The sad truth was that all three men's stock had fallen to the point where a joint tour appealing to old fans was the only financially viable option. The happy accident was that two of the three men couldn't have been in better form: Gene Clark sounds revitalised, off the booze (temporarily) and back to owning the stage, a brilliant front-man as well as a great singer and writer currently plugging a rather good rarities set of outtakes ('Roadmaster'). Clark's backing crew, The KC Southern Band, back him up neatly too, with a nice mix of being well drilled but not overpolished. Chris Hillman too is on top form: his second solo album 'Clear Sailin' is arguably his best solo record: accessible yet deep, poignant and sad yet with a bite and the recent songs from Manassas and the Souther-Hillman-Furay Band are pretty essential to curious Byrds fans too. His band are pretty special too, mainly made up of the session musicians who helped him out on 'Sailin' and they play Hillman's mixture of rock, pop, country and bluegrass with almost as much aplomb as Manassas. Chris and Gene really shine with the camera on them for a change instead of McGuinn or Crosby and by and ;large they have the material to prove it, making the first disc of this two-CD set  a much happier ride than you might have been expecting.
Unfortunately there are three things that prevent this first ever fully live Byrds release (half of 'Untitled' doesn't count!) being truly superb. The first is that Roger McGuinn sounds out of sorts, The Byrds' original leader finding himself blown off the stage every night by partners he still considered his juniors. His latest record, 'Thunderbyrd', is an awful mess of styles and sounds and he chooses the worst material from it here: the lacklustre 'Why Baby Why?', Tom Petty cover 'American Girl' and one of his least interesting Bob Dylan covers 'The Golden Loom'. McGuinn's band are bordering on hopeless: sauntering when they shoudl rock ('Tiffany Queen' is truly limp) and turning most everything into 'pub rock'. Secondly - and what's worse - is that the track listing is uneven, the promoters clearly considering McGuinn the 'catch' of the three and giving him around 40 minutes as opposed to Hillman's 30 and Clark's mere 20 (given that Clark had released more or less triple the amount of songs as McGuinn on leaving The Byrds this seems deeply unfair). The very worst thing about this album, though - and something that must have seemed like a rip-off to crowds at the time - is that the entire three sets are a warm-up for a reunion concert...lasting just three songs. Gene wasn't even in the band when 'Rock and Roll Star' was written and sounds very lost on it (the acerbicness the polar opposite of his own poetic style). A shaky 'Mr Tambourine Man' makes McGuin sound as if he's sitting on a washing machine. A closing five minute 'Eight MIles High' (the first time Gene would ever have sung this song live) is better, but even this is a pale facimilie of both the 'Untitled' era's 20 minute psychedelic jamming sessions or McGuinn's recent superb acoustic solo versions (where his Rickenbacker was made to ring like a sitar!) After sitting through the interminable McGuinn set you feel as if you deserve a bigger reward somehow than three songs that have clearly been under-rehearsed compared to all three men's solo shows.
Our advice is to stick with the first disc, which is genuinely riveting. Gene's set includes a driving 'Kanasas City Southern' (the ** track his band were named after), the cowboy drama 'Denver Or Wherever', a smoky sultry preview of 'Release Me Girl' (to be re-recorded for the first McGuinn-Clark-Hillman LP) with Clark in gorgeous voice and the sily rock cover 'Hula Bula Man'. Chris is in reflective mood, opening with a jazzed up version of the Flying Burrito Brother's 'Hot Burrito '#2' (Gram Parsons would have been turning in his grave at the jazz lounge saxophone, but actually this rockier arrangement works rather well), a terrific atmospheric 'Rise and Fall', a punchy 'Nothing Gets Through', his solo masterpiece 'Rollin' and Tumblin' (which doesn't quite come off live but still knocks spots off anything else here - even Gene's songs), a cute 'Play The Fool', the odd cover 'Quits', Stephen Stills' towering autobiography 'Witching Hour' (never released by Stills until as late as 2009) and a glorious closing Manassas medley of 'It Doesn't Matter' and 'Both Of Us (Bound To Lose)' (never played live by the band except for on the record and easily the second CD highlight). Roger, meanwhile, is coasting, with the highlights of his set a funky 'Lover Of The Bayou' (although it's hideously overplayed compared to the Byrds' more subtle version), a fun romp through 'Mr Spaceman', a rather off key 'Chestnut Mare' and - the best of the solo songs - a rather oddball murder/drug song that features Roger uncharacteristically demanding the audience to 'shoot 'em up!' A new song exclusive to this set, it would have made a fine addition to the first McGuinn-Clark-Hillman record (which was decidedly low on the 'McGuinn'). The rest, though, is junk.
So, a soaring flight or a mid-air crash? Like most Byrds projects there's enough brilliance in 'Three Byrds Land In London' to prove what a talented band they were and how much life there was left in all three on a good day. Gene shines as well as he can in 20 minutes and Chris plays the set of his life, but The Byrds always struggled to translate their sound onto the stage and that's sadly as true here as ever at times. This second reunion, on stage this time, is as much of an insult to the band's legend as the studio-bound first, with Crosby (twiddling his thumbs at the end of a CSN studio project but no resulting tour) conspicuous by his absence. What could have been the show of a lifetime is only part of the way there - with a professional release sensibly delayed for another 20 years where, with no hope of at least two of the Byrds ever joining another reunion, it sounded like both a more interesting relic than it seemed at the time - and even more of a frustratedly lost opportunity, with Clark badly sidelined yet again in inter-band politics. 

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