Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Byrds 7: Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde

Somehow The Byrds were still a band with a record deal, and Roger McGuinn felt responsible for keeping the brand going, even after he was the only original member left. Having convinced session pal Clarence White to stick around, they recruited a rhythm section schooled in country music and equally adept at singing harmonies.
As indicated by the schizophrenia in its title, Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde shows Roger McGuinn at a crossroads, trying to find a direction out of the several that interested him, from rock to country to space. But with an eye on safe commercialism, he took all the lead vocals on the album. (After all, what’s the point of keeping the store open if customers don’t recognize the guy behind the counter?)
Another sure stab at preserving the brand came with the opening track, a fuzz-tinged cover of “This Wheel’s On Fire”, yet another Dylan song from the Basement Tapes that consumers would certainly have recognized from the Band’s version the previous year (or even the UK hit by Julie Driscoll and Brian Auger, later redone for the theme song to Absolutely Fabulous, but we’re getting WAY off track here). Whatever menace they’ve laid down is pushed aside for “Old Blue”, the ancient folk song about a dead dog. “Your Gentle Way Of Loving Me” is about as straight Nashville as one can get, though we could do without the constant harmonica in the back. Pushed along by a booming tympani, “Child Of The Universe” was also the closing theme to the hideous Candy, known to most as Ringo Starr’s first film appearance without the other Beatles and to everyone else as one of the worst star-studded movies ever foisted upon the public. The main verse section is interesting in a psychedelic way, but the chorus is held hostage to the booming. (The unused title song sits in the middle of side two, and it’s not much better.) “Nashville West” is an instrumental showcase for Clarence White, which is just fine until somebody yells “YEE-HOO!” and it becomes a parody.
One of the last legacies Gram Parsons left the band was “Drug Store Truck Drivin’ Man”, a middle finger to everyone in Nashville who’d rejected Sweetheart Of The Rodeo. “King Apathy III” straddles a couple of meters, not sure if it wants to rock or swing, and the sections don’t even fit; maybe that’s supposed to illustrate apathy. “Bad Night At The Whiskey” succeed by standing relatively still, letting its heavy rock beat churn beneath multi-layered harmonies. Unfortunately, they couldn’t leave well enough alone; the closing “medley” crams a verse from “My Back Pages” up against a stiff blues jam ending with “Baby What You Want Me To Do”, concluding with a set-ending “we’ll be right back”.
Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde has its moments, but they simply don’t string together well. If anything, it serves as a statement of determination and perseverance, and Clarence White shines throughout, despite the material. Apparently not much was left over from the album sessions, as the 1997 upgrade sports two tracks from the box set and three negligible alternate takes to those on the album.

The Byrds Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde (1969)—2
1997 CD reissue: same as 1969, plus 5 extra tracks

1 comment:

  1. Christopher SjoholmDecember 30, 2011 at 8:37 AM

    I regularly peruse your site- good memory jogger for me and we often share the same appreciations. Would rate this one higher than you- find myself playing this one with greater regularity when I am in a Byrds mood. Maybe it is because I have a pleasant memory of seeing this unit perform at the State University of New Paltz many years ago when I was a young concert goer.