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Is Gene Clark's neglected 1977 release country-rock or just country?

Music Review: Gene Clark [The Byrds] – ‘Two Sides to Every Story’ [2014 Deluxe Edition]

I’ve been a huge fan of the music of Gene Clark. In fact, when I purchased the 2006 Byrds 4-CD box set, There Is a Season, the first thing I did was to find all of the songs written or co-written by Clark and place them on a single disc. So I anxiously looked forward to hearing Two Sides to Every Story, a record that, as per Clark’s biographer John Einarson, “was underappreciated in 1977.” After listening to the 10 tracks on Story, I can understand why the album was not a commercial success.

Story has been re-released by High Moon Records in a deluxe hardbound Eco-Book (actually, a booklet) with 26 color pages. A download card allows one to hear over 90 minutes of previously unreleased Gene Clark songs performed live in 1975.

Here’s a look at the content of the album.

Gene Clark - Two Sides to Every Story“Home Run King” sounds like a Michael Nesmith tune. The lyrics do not make much sense: “You are either just the newspaper boy/Or you’re either Babe Ruth.” Interestingly, the song is structured a lot like “The Bug” from Dire Straits: “Sometimes you’re the Louisville Slugger/Sometimes you’re the ball.” It’s a whimsical track, but Clark did not seem to enjoy singing it.

“Lonely Saturday” is a straight country – not country-rock – tune that might have fit well on a Jimmy Clanton (“Just a Dream”) or Jimmie Rodgers album. It’s a high quality song but does not match up well with Clark’s limited vocal range in ’77.

“In the Pines” is a banjo and violin-laden track that’s 110% country and needlessly over the top. This song speaks of a “black girl” who causes the singer to leave his home, while “Home Run King” referenced “the black Madonna sleeping with a star.”

“Kansas City Southern” is a rocker, fortunately. It’s kind of like Bob Seger-meets-The Eagles. If only the entire album was like this! “Well I’d sit and watch those trains go by/And wish that I was homeward bound.” It’s a track that requires some attitude to be done properly – Clark is not quite up to the task here. I’m sure that either Rosanne Cash or Bonnie Raitt could record a dynamite, knock-your-socks-off version.

“Give My Love to Marie” is Clark’s cover of a song written by James Talley about a black lung miner. It’s an emotional ballad about a poor dying man (“There’s millions in the ground/not a penny for me”) that would have been a splendid B-side if “Kansas City Southern” had been released as a single. It’s definitely the best vocal performance by Clark on the album.

“Sister Moon” is a simple 12-line song in the vein of “Moonlight Mile” by the Rolling Stones. There’s too much orchestration because there’s not much content to the song: “Ah, Sister Moon, I am your son.”

“Marylou” is a gritty blues-rock cover of a song written by Sam Ling and Obie Jessie. It’s somewhat reminiscent of “Steamroller” by James Taylor. If John Cougar Mellencamp were to ever record a covers album, he might want to include this one.

Should Jackson Browne be countrified, he would sound like Clark does on “Hear the Wind”: “Life’s the house where we live/We cannot feel tomorrow/Only feel what we give.” It’s a three-minute track that’s pretty weak. “Past Addresses” is a wordy Clark composition – wordiness never being a problem with his earlier songs – that sounds even more like Browne. It imparts a Late for the Sky feel: “I can only make guesses/On some of my past addresses/And tell you what my broken memory recalls.”

The album concludes with “Silent Crusade,” a song about life as a journey on the ocean. It reads as a nice, admirable poem performed in the style of Gordon Lightfoot. But Clark’s voice cracks and fails him on this closer.

Story is a collection of songs with more losers than winners. It’s more country than country-rock, which limited its appeal back in 1977 and may well do so again. The remastered sound is fine. However, at an Amazon price of $33.47 it’s awfully expensive (even with the live tracks that can be downloaded), especially when you consider that the limited edition deluxe of Rosanne Cash’s The River and the Thread, also packaged in an Eco-Book with 36 color pages, goes for $16.19 on the same site.

I think Two Sides to Every Story will appeal to Gene Clark completists. It’s unlikely to hold much appeal for others.

[amazon asin=B0068717CO,B00FZRMIYY&template=iframe image]

 

 

About Joseph Arellano

Joseph Arellano wrote music reviews in college for the campus newspaper and FM radio station. In recent years he has written book reviews for several publications including San Francisco Book Review, Sacramento Book Review, Portland Book Review and the Tulsa Book Review. He also maintains the Joseph's Reviews blog. For Blogcritics, Joseph writes articles about music, books, TV programs, running and walking shoes, and athletic gear. He believes that most problems can be solved through the purchase of a new pair of running shoes.

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6 comments

  1. Critics get paid to be critical” is an old cliche around writers circles, and that is certainly the case with this superficial look at an album that was ahead of it’s time when it was released, and apparently still is in Mr. Arellano’s world, where “most problems can be solved through the purchase of a new pair of running shoes”. “Two Sides to Every Story” is far more deserving of praise than this damning-with-faint-praise superficial look would lead one to believe, being blessed with production that was clean, clean, clean on vinyl, and almost three dimensionally so in the digitally remastered age. The songs have a flavor similar to the Dillard and Clark issues, but also preview the style Clark favored in “McGuinn, Clark and Hillman years later. Harmonies where they are presented, are rich and full.

    In looking at song after song here, Mr. Arellano finds fault with almost every one. He talks of Clark’s “limited vocal range”. In another comment, he postulates that a country song is “needlessly over the top”, and there’s “too much orchestration because there’s not much content” in another. Even “Home Run King” which is a just-plain-fun song is not spared, since this reviewer was able to determine that “Clark did not seem to enjoy singing it.” some THIRTY SEVEN years after it was recorded!

    I find this “review” filled with pompous pronouncements that take into account neither the unique style of singing and songwriting Gene Clark was a master of, OR the times during which the album was recorded. It seems obvious to me that Mr. Arellano lacks the insight or experience to characterize an album of the quality of “Two Sides to Every Story” in anything more than banal characterizations. He really ought to spend more time listening and less time contemplating the quality of his running shoes….

  2. As much as I love the music of Gene Clark, I don’t think High Moon Records re-released this album in hopes of it hitting the charts. Most Gene Clark fans are completists; we are talking about a cult singer-songwriter here. That being said, I agree with Mr. McClure. I have to wonder when a reviewer wishes every song were like the “Kansas City Southern” and not the original (and better) version by Dillard and Clark. “in the Pines” is a standard bluegrass tune with the line “That girl” not black girl, and “Hear the Wind” is a great song. I disagree with just about everything in this review.

  3. Cool sub-literate review, Joey! This record is hardly a masterpiece but there are worthwhile tracks, especially Sister Moon and Silent Crusade. Your review shows an astonishing amount of ignorance of the genres Gene was working in plus just plain wrong opinions that would have been better kept to yourself. Keep trying.

  4. Disagree with just about everything in Arellano’s review. Sounds somewhat superficial to me. How can a huge Gene Clark fan not have heard Two Sides before.