Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Byrds 12: Byrds

The Byrds may not have been the first supergroup, but they spawned several, most of which had splintered by the time Roger McGuinn had driven the original brand into the ground. Now that all five original members were available, they were free to reunite for a brand new album on David Geffen’s new Asylum label, carrying forth the tradition of L.A. country-rock. Simply titled Byrds, it lists the full names of the five on both the cover and the labels, lest there be any doubt.
Gene Clark had the most to gain from any boost the reunion could provide, being the least commercially successful on his own. The album opens with his “Full Circle”, an apt title thankfully not used for the album as a whole, but demonstrating how much his songs meant to the band. “Changing Heart” is country-flavored with good counterpoints. He also takes the lead on a jaunty rejig of Neil Young’s “Cowgirl In The Sand”, while “(See The Sky) About To Rain” appears a full year before Neil’s own version.
Roger’s songs are pretty thin, “Sweet Mary” being another collaboration with Jacques Levy (who’d helped with “Chestnut Mare” and a few others) and “Born To Rock & Roll” an unconvincing sentiment despite several attempts to record it over the years. His dominance over the proceedings was likely quashed by David Crosby, whose first lead vocal is on a decent waltz arrangement of Joni Mitchell’s “For Free”. For some reason he re-does “Laughing” in much the same arrangement as on his solo album, except for some Rickenbacker and other harmonies. “Long Live The King” is his only new songwriting contribution, much harsher and more forgettable than his patented stoner style.
Chris Hillman had gained a lot of confidence from the Burritos and Manassas, and contributes more mandolin than Roger does the Rickenbacker 12-string. “Things Will Be Better” is a half-decent contemporary rocker, while “Borrowing Time” is a ringer for the Grateful Dead playing Cat Stevens. (Michael Clarke contributes drums, and the fact that they’re barely noticeable is a compliment to his honed skill.)
The album was soon overlooked, and the band split again; Crosby was soon busy with trying to reform CSNY anyway. But Byrds is really not as bad as reviews of the time said, and certainly better than the last handful of albums released under the name. While hard to find, it gets reissued from time to time to gain new audiences and appreciation.

Gene Clark, Chris Hillman, David Crosby, Roger McGuinn, Michael Clarke Byrds (1973)—3

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