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Music Review: The Byrds – Byrds

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The Byrds released Farther Along on November 17, 1971. Shortly thereafter Roger McGuinn fired the other three members of the group. However, the Byrds were not quite finished, as the original members were all available to different degrees and decided to re-unite for an album with the simple title of Byrds. McGuinn was working on his own solo album and Chris Hillman was touring with his group Manassas between recording sessions so David Crosby stepped forward to produce the album. It would ultimately be Gene Clarke who would provide the best music and probably put the most effort into the release. They also decided to leave their long time label, Columbia, and sign with David Geffen’s Asylum label.

The idea of Roger McGuinn, David Crosby, Gene Clark, Chris Hillman, and Michael Clarke back in the studio seemed like a good idea at the time. Interestingly this combination which had practically invented the fusion of rock and folk, who had produced some of the best music of the psychedelic era, and had played what can best be described as space rock, would put together an album similar to what the Byrds had been producing during the last several years. The album would be panned by the critics of the day but would be commercially successful.

Listening to this album 37 years later, it is not as bad as the early reviews would make it out to be. While it does not approach their best sixties material in terms of quality, it is still OK, which I must admit is faint praise.

Gene Clark is consistently excellent throughout. He pens two of the best songs with “Full Circle” and “Changing Heart.” His lead vocal on the Neil Young composition, “(See The Sky) About To Rain,” is a reminder of just how talented he was when healthy and committed.

Roger McGuinn did create one superior song. “Sweet Mary,” which includes some brilliant mandolin playing by Chris Hillman, is a gentle song of loss with an almost a folk flavor. McGuinn’s signature 12 string guitar playing would make too few appearances on this album and I can’t help but think that Clarence White is missed.

David Crosby recycles his song “Laughing” and really adds nothing new. He does provide one of his better vocals on the Joni Mitchell song “For Free.” He did take the time to produce the album well. I own the original vinyl release and the sound is crystal clear and the mix is right on.

Chris Hillman would contribute two very short songs and would admit years later that he was saving his best material for his own group.

The other song of interest was another Neil Young composition, “Cowgirl In The Sand.” The Byrds would take it in a country-rock direction with an emotional performance.

Byrds would be the final album by the group as the members would all go their separate ways again. It remains an interesting historical artifact and is the swan song by one of the more innovative groups in American rock ‘n’ roll history. It contains some pleasant, if not creative, music and is worth a listen every now and then.

 

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About David Bowling

  • Paul

    Another fine review. I have to say that I have agreed with your overall assessment of all of the Byrds albums, and with most of the detailed assessments.

    While recording this album, McGuinn was not only working on his first solo album, he continued a busy tour schedule with the Clarence White Byrds, right up until this album was released. And Chris Hillman was not only busy touring with Manssas, he was working on their second album as well, and possibly preparing for a potential solo album. Gene Clark actually put his, nearly finished, solo album (Roadmaster) on hold so that he concentrate on Byrds.

    Clark’s two songs and two Young covers are all terrific. Crosby’s two songs are weak (“Long Live the King”) and an unnecessary remake (“Laughing”), although his Joni Mitchel cover is very good. Hillman’s two songs are both very enjoyable, but not particularly substantial. McGuinn’s “Sweet Mary” is an unobtrusive throwaway; “Born to Rock and Roll” has some great folksy verses, but the chorus fails to rock convincingly. And, yes, Clarence White’s guitar could have added greatly to this album, as could more of McGuinn’s 12-string. Overall, very enjoyable and far superior to the Eagles Desperado of the same year.