: “The Byrds, to my mind, created one of the handful of original sounds in all of rock and roll history. Like Elvis Presley, The Who, Chuck Berry, and later Led Zeppelin or the Ramones, The Byrds created something that would influence most of the pop and rock world that followed.” Indeed, from the first bars of “Mr. Tambourine Man” it was apparent that this was something different and special, and if The Byrds had done nothing else their place in rock history would still be significant. After all, Roger McGuinn’s lovely 12 string Rickenbacker guitar jangle launched a legion of imitators, the most prominent among them being R.E.M.'s Peter Buck and the Heartbreakers' Mike Campbell. In addition, although Bob Dylan can be credited with inventing the genre of folk-rock, The Byrds popularized it. Covering four Dylan songs here, the band introduced Bob to a much wider audience with renditions that are vast improvements on his originals. The best of these are the classic title track (then not yet released by Bob) and “Chimes Of Freedom,” which exude a quiet majesty, while “All I Really Want To Do” craps all over Dylan’s amateurish original. The formula was simple yet flawless: mix together McGuinn's lovely Rickenbacker guitar chime and fragile high-pitched lead vocals (an aching thing of beauty also obviously influenced by Dylan), add gorgeous harmonies sung in unison, and top it off with a strong mid-tempo melody. The band's sound was nothing new, exactly, in that it came from obvious influences, The Beatles, The Everly Brothers, and The Searchers being chief among them aside from Dylan, but in weaving these ingredients together The Byrds came up with something new and entirely of their own making. In addition to the band’s exquisite vocal harmonies and revolutionary guitar sound, Mr. Tambourine Man also showcased the strong songwriting and singing of Gene Clark, who writes or co-writes five stellar selections, including "Here Without You" and "I Knew I'd Want You," a pair of melancholic efforts that are boosted by haunting harmonies, and the brilliant single “Feel A Whole Lot Better,” one of the band's signature songs. Also notable are a pair of Clark/McGuinn co-writes, "You Won't Have To Cry" and "It's No Use," which are the album's two most rocking tracks, especially the latter, while the former is the most Beatlesque of the bunch. But it worked both ways; George Harrison liked the riff of their fantastic Pete Seeger cover "The Bells Of Rhymney" so much that he wrote "If I Needed Someone" in tribute (after all, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right?). The other covers are also solid if less notable; on Jackie DeShannon's "Don't Doubt Yourself Babe" the band integrates a Bo Diddley beat and some psychedelic guitar into an interestingly atypical track, while an atmospheric rendering of the wartime standard “We’ll Meet Again” successfully closes the album. All in all, perhaps Mr. Tambourine Man isn't the most exciting album around, but given the album's consistent quality it's easy to see why this band was briefly considered America’s answer to The Beatles. Simply put, this classic first installment has stood the test of time, and as one last note I'd like to clarify the long running myth that only McGuinn played his instrument on this album. It's true that session players, including legends such as bassist Larry Knechtel, drummer Hal Blaine, and keyboardist Leon Russell, played on "Mr. Tambourine Man" and "I Knew I'd Want You," but The Byrds alone played on all the other tracks.
Turn! Turn! Turn! (Columbia '66, '96) Rating: A-
This record continues along the same path as their splendid debut, with only slightly less inspired results, as the band again delivers mostly mid-tempo folk-rock songs that are dominated by McGuinn’s chiming guitar and their haunting harmonies. The title track, whose lyrics Pete Seeger had adapted from the Book Of Ecclesiastes, immediately sets the tone with a classic Byrds performance that perfectly encapsulated the times of the mid-60s. Other high points include McGuinn's intense, haunting rocker “It Won’t Be Wrong” and three more Gene Clark gems: “Set You Free This Time,” a sparse folk ballad, “The World Turns All Around Her,” whose dark lyrics (it seems our narrator is haunted by an ex-flame) are at odds with the propulsive, upbeat melody, and “If You’re Gone,” which like many of Clark's songs is filled with an air of melancholia. The album only contains two Dylan compositions this time since The Byrds were continuing to evolve as songwriters and were searching for new sources of inspiration. The band would’ve been better off had they not tackled “The Times They Are A-Changin’” since not only is their version mediocre but Dylan had nailed his version so definitively, but elsewhere the band’s interpretive skills remain sharp. Dylan’s “Lay Down Your Weary Tune” sounds appropriately weary, with another lovely lead vocal from McGuinn, who on the day of JFK's assassination also rewrote the traditional “He Was A Friend Of Mind” in tribute. Unfortunately, producer Terry Melchor added organ and tambourine to this tune without the band's knowledge, which strained relations as they were none too pleased (he and the band would soon part ways, though he would re-produce them later on), but the song still stands as a moving elegy to their country's fallen leader. Elsewhere, the much-covered “Satisfied Mind” is a solidly tuneful country song that foreshadowed Sweetheart Of The Rodeo, and whose theme that piece of mind and a sense of self can make a pauper a rich man is worth repeating. Anyway, the album trails off towards the end, with the aforementioned "The Times They Are A-Changin'," a merely decent McGuinn/David Crosby collaboration (the latter's first writing credit), "Wait and See," and a superfluous novelty cover of Stephen Foster's “Oh! Susannah.” Still, the majority of the album is similar in quality to Mr. Tambourine Man, even if it could be argued that the album merely echoes the same strengths as the debut. Both albums were recorded with the same lineup and producer at around the same time, after all, but even if Turn! Turn! Turn! suffers slightly from being an inferior sequel, it was still another really good album. Note: This album could’ve been even better had some of the weaker later tracks been replaced by the much stronger “The Day Walk (Never Before”) and “She Don’t Care About Time;” both are bonus tracks on the 1996 reissue.
Fifth Dimension (Columbia '66, '96) Rating: A-
Despite the departure of main songwriter Gene Clark and producer Terry Melchor (the latter replaced by Allen Stanton), Fifth Dimension was a fine transitional effort that’s far more varied than their first two albums. Although it still contains a handful of songs that feature Roger McGuinn’s trademark guitar jangle and the band’s haunting, ghostly harmonies (with bassist Chris Hillman replacing Clark as the third voice), this album is much more rock oriented than past efforts. Many of these songs have a heavier psychedelic rock sound, as McGuinn’s experimental guitar dominates more than ever. They achieve transcendent results on the classic “Eight Miles High” which, inspired by John Coltrane and Ravi Shankar’s Indian ragas, has some of the most thrilling guitar ever put on record. Alas, the song, which was primarily written by Clark (before he left) with help from McGuinn and Crosby, was deemed too hot to handle due to its allegedly overtly drug related lyrics, and the song was banned in many quarters and subsequently wasn’t quite the smash hit it should’ve been despite its status as arguably the signature Byrds song AND the psychedelic rock song (though it certainly has plenty of competition for the latter designation). “I See You,” later effectively covered by Yes, also has some "ahead-of-its-time" raga-based guitar along with more haunting harmonies and some frenetic, pulse-pounding beats from drummer Michael Clarke (who had also put in a great performance on “Eight Miles High,” it should be noted), while soaring harmonies and an elegiac guitar solo highlights the dramatic sci-fi title track, another minor hit. Finally escaping the long shadow of Bob Dylan, The Byrds added lush strings (probably Stanton's main contribution to the album) on strong readings of the traditional tunes “Wild Mountain Thyme” and “John Riley,” and they further embrace country rock on “Mr. Spaceman,” another minor hit that anticipates Sweetheart Of The Rodeo and which is notable for McGuinn’s jaunty bluegrass guitar and some light, catchy harmonies. Another impressive track is Crosby's atmospheric "What's Happening?!?!," which in his typical meandering fashion doesn't really go anywhere musically or say anything meaningful but which delivers more stellar psychedelia just the same. Alas, more so than the prior two albums, Fifth Dimension is something of a hits-plus-filler affair, with most of the latter residing towards the end of the album. The best of the rest is probably the simple yet effectively moving, Hiroshima-inspired "I Come And Stand At Every Door," which puts a Pete Seeger translation of an old poem to the melody of an already existing folk ballad (I read that somewhere, anyway, though I don't recognize the poem or the folk melody), while "Captain Soul" is a bluesy instrumental jam that provides mildly enjoyable album padding, nothing more, nothing less. The true clunkers come in the form of a weak version of “Hey Joe” that doesn’t even come close to matching The Leaves let alone Hendrix, and “2-4-2 Fox Trot (The Lear Jet Song),” an amateurish misfire that ends the album on an embarrassing note. Still, despite some rough spots and the fact that this far more diverse album lacked the cohesiveness and consistency of either Mr. Tambourine Man or (most of) Turn! Turn! Turn!, on Fifth Dimension the band left behind the “folk rock” tag and any possible thoughts that they were merely mass popularizers of Bob Dylan songs. No, the Byrds could now claim to have pioneered psychedelia and country rock, and though with the departure of Clark (whose subsequent solo career is well worth getting to know) the mass exodus of The Byrds had begun, McGuinn and (to a lesser extent) Crosby picked up the slack, and as a result the band barely missed a beat.
Younger Than Yesterday (Columbia '67, '96) Rating: A
Another classic effort, this one with talented producer Gary Usher (best known for his collaborations with the Beach Boys and his own group Sagittarius) at the dashboard, Younger Than Yesterday again successfully showcased strands of folk, psychedelia, and country within the band’s by now familiar rock sound. The jangly guitars remain (heck, they're essential to several of these songs) but sometimes shift toward the background as McGuinn continues to expand his sonic vocabulary, while the band returned to Bob Dylan with a masterful cover of “My Back Pages” that was in the same style as the earlier ones but was arguably the best of the bunch (it was the band's last U.S. top 40 hit, peaking at a rather modest #30). Bassist Chris Hillman comes into his own here, having a compositional hand in and singing lead or co-lead on five of these selections, which was all the more amazing given that songwriting-wise he had contributed nothing to their first three albums. Two of these songs, “Time Between” and “The Girl With No Name,” are fun lighter efforts that saw the band again strongly embracing country rock, with help from Clarence White on guitar (and Vern Gosdin on the catchy, upbeat former song, the superior of the two). Better still are supremely haunting yet tuneful songs such as “Have You Seen Her Face,” which features the band's trademark harmonies and some rockin' guitar from McGuinn, and “Thoughts And Words,” which is highlighted by its Beatlesque pop chorus and McGuinn’s backwards guitar. The cynical record industry putdown “So You Want To Be A Rock 'n' Roll Star” (co-written with McGuinn) was the first single released from the album, though it too stalled at #29 on the charts as the band's hit making days were nearing an end despite the continued quality of their songs. Rumored to have been about The Monkees, this song has since become recognized as a classic despite its modest chart placement, though its forced live ambiance seems a bit worn and cheesy; much more impressive are its upbeat harmonies and the lively trumpet riffs played by Hugh Masekela. Yet it is lesser known album tracks that make this probably The Byrds best album. In addition to the aforementioned first-rate Hillman songs ("Have You Seen Her Face" and "Thoughts And Words"), Crosby/McGuinn's moody, dramatic "Renaissance Fair" features more heavenly harmonies and one of the band's most inviting melodies, while Crosby's "Everybody's Been Burned" is the very definition of the word "haunting" (there's that word again) and is arguably his best song ever. Young gents take note: write and perform a song like this and the ladies will love you, even if you're a hefty drug addict who looks like a walrus. Then again, McGuinn's impeccable, gorgeous guitar is arguably the song's best feature, and along with Hillman's rumbling bass his backwards guitar is also the distinguishing characteristic of the trippy "CTA-102," a decidedly dated but still fun sci-fi pop rocker. Granted, Crosby's awful "Mind Gardens" makes "2-4-2 Fox Trot (The Lear Jet Song)" seem like a masterpiece, but McGuinn/Crosby's briskly-paced "Why" ends the album with another highly enjoyable psychedelic rocker, and on the whole this album saw The Byrds cramming more creativity into 28 minutes than most band's fit into an entire career
The Byrds Greatest Hits (Columbia '67, '99) Rating: A+
Although The Byrds Greatest Hits is far too brief at a mere eleven songs (fourteen on the reissue) and omits many terrific album tracks, this is an aptly titled collection that contains most of the band’s most famous songs all in one place. Given that this was when the hits dried up, the timing of this collection was impeccable. Each of the band’s first four albums are sampled, and all of the band’s major contributions to the rock world are on display: Roger McGuinn’s Rickenbacker guitar jangle, their important merging of Bob Dylan’s folk songs with their own Beatlesque sound, their own underrated compositions spread out among four quality songwriters, their heavenly harmonies, their psychedelic space rock explorations, and their fusion of country and rock. Start here and then buy the original albums, as Greatest Hits is an excellent sampler for anyone looking to get acquainted with one of the ‘60s greatest and most underrated bands.
The Notorious Byrd Brothers (Columbia '68, '97) Rating: A
The hooky horns that kick off “Artificial Energy” (a blatant drug song this time) are a fair warning that this album would be different than what Byrds fans had come to expect. Then again, Byrds fans should’ve by now come to expect the unexpected, and this was another great album whose triumphs are all the more remarkable considering that David Crosby left the band during these sessions and drummer Michael Clarke only played on about half the album. No matter, since the remaining Byrds (Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman) and producer Gary Usher pulled things off so well that their absences were barely noticed. Actually, Crosby co-wrote three songs (“Draft Morning,” "Tribal Gathering," “Dolphin’s Smile”) and sang elsewhere (“Get To You,” “Old John Robertson”), so he was a significant contributor to this album, and Clarke’s replacements, Jim Gordon (later famous for playing with Derek and the Dominos and for murdering his mother) and Hal Blaine, are much better drummers than him anyway, so no big loss there. This album is one vast experiment, featuring a pretty, chiming folk-rock cover one instant in Carole King/Gerry Goffin’s “Going Back” (one of my favorite Byrds songs, period) and then veering into Hillman’s “Natural Harmony,” an utterly strange psychedelic excursion that's alluringly mysterious if not especially memorable. “Draft Morning” is a subdued anti-war song with an excellent low-key guitar melody and elegant harmonies, but more horns and sound effects also mark it as far from straightforward. With help from ace guitarist Clarence White, their country rock sound is also further explored on King/Goffin’s “Wasn’t Born To Follow” and “Get To You,” but these songs are likewise far from your standard country rock fare; just witness the brief raga-fueled space guitar interjection on the former and the dramatically echoed background harmonies on the latter. “Change Is Now” likewise starts as a lovely harmonized folk-rock ditty, albeit with country touches (courtesy of White again), before taking off in a different direction altogether with a high-pitched, beautifully harmonized guitar duet. “Tribal Gathering” is also wonderfully weird and mysterious, beginning with cool offbeat rhythms and more warm harmonies - then McGuinn’s wild heavy metal guitar takes over after appearing from seemingly out of nowhere. It is these genre-jumping juxtapositions within single songs that make this album so captivating, and indeed this is the only Byrds album where they attempted to integrate so many different styles within individual songs. Granted, sometimes these juxtapositions sit uneasily together, and Usher’s production gimmicks don’t always work; the effects only serve to get in the way on “Old John Robertson,” for example. Still, the end result is fascinating far more often than not, and The Byrds remain a top-notch harmony group with strong instrumentalists. Hillman’s bass playing continues to impress me, and I’ve already said plenty about McGuinn, whose trademark Rickenbacker jangle continues to be downplayed in favor of more experimental exploits; witness his guitar-made dolphin cries that lend an adventurous edge to the otherwise gentle folk of “Dolphin’s Smile.” True, a track like the overtly psychedelic “Space Odyssey” (inspired by the Arthur C. Clarke short story “The Sentinel,” which also inspired Stanley Kubrick’s movie 2001: A Space Odyssey) sounds undeniably dated today, but it has a majestic quality to it as well. The same can be said for this album on the whole, for despite its dated, at times vaguely hippy-ish faults, The Notorious Byrd Brothers, the band’s most adventurous and psychedelic offering, remains a uniquely self-contained creation that's wonderfully strange and deeply satisfying.
Sweetheart Of The Rodeo (Columbia '68, '97) Rating: B+
With McGuinn and Hillman being the lone remaining original Byrds left, the guys delivered another abrupt departure in sound that must have been completely shocking upon its release. Drafting future cult legend Gram Parsons, whose input on this album exceeded even McGuinn’s, Sweetheart Of The Rodeo is often incorrectly credited as being the first country rock album. First of all, The Byrds had already intermittently performed country and/or country rock songs on their previous albums, so there’s little here that was new or revolutionary about this album musically. Secondly, there’s little that’s rocking at all about this album, and instead it should be considered the first country album by a rock band. Instead of a chiming Rickenbacker, which has completely disappeared, there are weepy pedal steel and acoustic guitars (once again Clarence White lends a helping hand along with other assorted session men), loping country beats (provided by new drummer Kevin Kelley), and intriguing if prototypical country lyrics like “an empty bottle, a broken heart, and you’re still on my mind.” Granted, these primarily cover songs (by the legendary likes of Bob Dylan, the Louvin Brothers, Woody Guthrie, and Merle Haggard) are competently performed and are perfectly pleasant, but they also seem pretty plain and unexciting compared to the groundbreaking experimentation of the band’s recent albums. In addition, although two fine Parsons originals (“Hickory Wind” and “One Hundred Years From Now”) serve as highlights, some questionable politics prevented Gram from singing more lead vocals and thereby strengthening the album. Now, accounts differ on exactly what happened, either contractual obligations to his former label (Parsons’ International Submarine Band had released Safe At Home to little fanfare in 1968) limited his contributions, or McGuinn/Hillman/Usher simply decided that his presence on the album should be more limited, and as a result his lead vocals were replaced on “The Christian Life” and “You Don’t Miss Your Water” and buried on “One Hundred Years From Now.” Really, if it’s the latter case then that’s a shame because why in the world would they choose to have McGuinn and Hillman vocally imitate Parsons when they had the real thing right there? Anyway, the original Parsons vocals are available on The Byrds box set - but not the reissue, a major missed opportunity, though in general I’d recommend getting the reissues of all The Byrds albums due to their improved sound quality and worthwhile bonus tracks - and Parsons does sing three leads, including a pair of sprightly offerings (“You’re Still On My Mind,” “Life In Prison”) in addition to the classic ballad “Hickory Wind,” which features the band’s still-formidable harmonies and which he would later re-record with Emmylou Harris on his Grievous Angel album. Elsewhere, two Dylan songs from the not-yet-released Basement Tapes fittingly bookend the album; “You Ain’t Going Nowhere” is catchy and upbeat, while “Nothing Was Delivered” has rare rock oriented moments and as such it has a musical gravitas that’s too often lacking elsewhere. Indeed, this “classic” album may have been an influential template for The Eagles and Poco, among many others, and it also indirectly influenced more rocking later alt-country types like Uncle Tupelo, The Jayhawks, and Whiskeytown, but that merely makes it historically important. Musically, the magic that once made The Byrds’ music so haunting is largely missing on Sweetheart Of The Rodeo, though again it’s a perfectly enjoyable (if highly overrated) album. Much better to my ears is Parsons and Hillman’s subsequent album released a year later with The Flying Burrito Brothers, The Gilded Palace Of Sin, on which they forged a far stronger link between country and rock.
Dr. Byrds and Mr. Hyde (Columbia '69, '97) Rating: B+
With Parsons and Hillman gone, McGuinn retooled the band with a completely new four-piece lineup, with country guitar virtuoso Clarence White (who remember had played on previous Byrds albums), drummer Gene Parsons (the best official drummer the band ever had), and bassist John York. Their underrated first album together is aptly titled, as it features a somewhat schizophrenic but oddly appealing combination of hard rock (Dr. Byrds) and country (Mr. Hyde). The album starts strongly with their intense, metallic take on Bob Dylan/The Band’s “This Wheel’s On Fire,” possibly my favorite version of the song, and then their take on the traditional “Old Blue” has a mix of McGuinn’s guitar jangle and White’s country flavorings, far more the latter on the whole and dog lover that I am I find this catchy song to be oddly endearing. The next song, “Your Gentle Ways Of Loving Me,” apparently written by two friends of Gene Parsons, is a sweet, catchy, up-tempo love song, but “Child Of The Universe,” written by McGuinn with Dave Grusin, is something of a hybrid and simply isn’t all that memorable (though it’s certainly not bad). Closing out what used to be side one on the LP is “Nashville West,” a pleasant if unremarkable up-tempo country instrumental. The pure country “Drug Store Truck Drivin’ Man” musically sounds like it could’ve been on Sweetheart and lyrically takes pointed swings at Nashville DJ Ralph Emery, while “King Apathy III” is a true country rock song and a very good one at that. Next comes two songs that were written for the soundtrack to the movie Candy; the song “Candy” primarily delivers solidly pretty country but is most notable for White’s electric guitar solo, while the atmospheric, hard rocking psychedelic rock of “Bad Night At The Whiskey” might be the best Dr. Byrds entry on the album. Alas, the closing medley, starting with barely a minute of “My Back Pages” and continuing on for over 3 more minutes of sloppy blues rock, merely pads out what was then the band’s longest album to date (but it’s still only 34 minutes!). On the whole, though somewhat inconsistent, I generally prefer listening to this transitional release over the far more lauded prior album, though the murky production was a problem before the 1997 CD reissue, which clarified the album’s sound while adding five bonus tracks including a version of Dylan’s “Lay Lady Lay” that was released as a single. Also worth noting is that McGuinn dominates the lead vocals on the album (even the harmonies often sound like him, though all four band members are credited with backing vocals) and commercially this was the band’s weakest seller to date.
Ballad Of Easy Rider (Columbia '69, '97) Rating: B
This album is associated with the famous cult film Easy Rider, though aside from the title track here, which is a markedly different version than the one recorded for the movie, there really is no association to speak of. Still, said assumed association did boost the band’s stock a bit, helping them score a modest commercial rebound after Dr. Byrds had essentially flopped. This album also saw the band reunite with early producer Terry Melchor, who fixes the production problems that had marred the prior album. Unfortunately, this isn’t the band’s best batch of tunes, in part because McGuinn was preoccupied with another project at the time (according to Wikipedia, he “had been developing a country rock stage production of Henrik Ibsen’s Peter Gynt with former psychologist and Broadway impresario Jacques Levy. The musical was to be titled Gene Tryp.”) Writing-wise he only contributes the title track, a pretty orchestral ballad (apparently influenced by Nilsson’s hit version of “Everybody’s Talkin’”) that he co-wrote with Bob Dylan (who merely provided a few key lyrics that he gave to McGuinn to finish). After that highlight, the rest of the album is primarily comprised of cover songs and their renditions of traditional songs, and overall the album is a bit ballad-heavy (again fitting given the album’s title) and lacks major standouts, though there are some quality songs. The best of the rest is probably “Tulsa County Blue,” a Pamela Polland cover on which White shines, “Jesus Is Just Alright,” which I can’t help compare to the Doobie Brothers later (far superior) hit version, “Gunga Din,” a surprising, glistening pop gem written and sung by Parsons, and an affecting rendition of Woody Guthrie’s “Deportee (Plane Wreck At Los Gatos).” Elsewhere, “Fido” is an amusing enough space filler written and sung by York about a dog, and covers of “Oil In My Lamp” (traditional), the sea shanty “Jack Tarr the Sailor” (traditional and likely influenced by Fairport Convention), and “It’s All Over Baby Blue” (Bob Dylan) are listenable but aren’t what I consider highlights (the former is too bland and repetitive, the latter two are rather dreary though I do get a kick out of McGuinn’s faux British accent on “Jack Tarr”). Another song not yet mentioned is “There Must Be Someone,” a pleasant Vern Gosdin cover also sung by Parsons, who has a smoother if less distinctive voice than McGuinn; I should’ve also mentioned that White sings lead on “Oil In My Lamp,” as this album is far more democratic with regards to lead vocals than the last album had been (then again, that song is more about its harmonies, for what would a Byrds album be without harmonies?). Last and probably least is the then-topical tribute song “Armstrong,” Aldrin, and Collins,” which (like their recent preoccupation with dog songs!) continues the Byrds not-so-grand tradition of slight space-themed finales. Anyway, Ballad Of Easy Rider is a solid album but it lacks that something special (fully engaged participation from McGuinn, perhaps?), and given the many better Byrds albums out there I can only give it a lukewarm recommendation. Note: Bassist John York was fired from the band after the sessions for this album were completed.
(Untitled) (Columbia '70, '00) Rating: A-
Skip Battin replaced York on bass for this half-live, half-studio double album, the last essential Byrds album and the best album from the latter day version of the band. This version of the band was the best live group the band ever had, so it made sense that they’d try to capture that on record. Side one starts strongly with “Lover Of The Bayou,” one of four co-writes between McGuinn and Jacques Levy, and probably the four best songs here (their Gene Tryp project had to be abandoned but some quality songs resulted from the project, even if it likely hurt their last album). CCR would’ve been proud to call this intense swamp rocker their own, and their version of “Positively Fourth Street” is also good (with White’s guitar taking the place of Al Kooper’s keyboards) even if Dylan’s original is unsurpassable. Next comes the earlier Byrds songs “Nashville West,” “So You Want To Be A Rock 'n' Roll Star," “Mr. Tambourine Man,” “Mr. Spaceman”), which are solidly rendered but don’t add much to the originals (in fact “Mr. Tambourine Man” is far inferior). The 16-minute jam of “Eight Miles High” is where the band in particular show off what powerful players this version of the band had. Heck, the vocals don’t even begin until after the 12-minute mark, and then only briefly, and though the song is certainly longer than it needed to be (I would’ve cut the bass solo at the very least), it’s an exciting, impressive display of chops from a band typically more known for their superior singing and songwritng than their musicianship (this despite the fact that this version of the band had arguably two of the greatest guitar players ever). As for the studio side, this is more along the lines of the country and rock mix that they’d recently done, but I’d argue that it’s their best studio side in some time. The highlight is the strange (“she’ll be just like a wife???”) yet oddly magical and quite gorgeous minor hit “Chestnut Mare,” another McGuinn/Levy collaboration (and another song about an animal, this time a horse rather than a dog!), as were “All The Things” and “Just A Season,” a pair of melodic, pretty gems. I also like their version of Little Feat’s (not yet released) “Truck Stop Girl,” a mid-tempo rocker sung by White, while Parsons gets another effective lead vocal on the country ballad “Yesterday’s Train.” Surprisingly, Battin writes or co-writes three songs (two are co-writes with eccentric impresario Kim Fowley, sung by McGuinn), but “Hungry Planet” isn’t especially memorable though the playing by White in particular is impressive, and “You All Look Alike” is catchy but minor. Battin wrote and sang the anti-Vietnam war anthem “Well Come Back Home,” which provides a strong finale even if it’s chanted mantra outro is probably a couple of minutes longer than it should’ve been; the album’s other song, a cover of Leadbelly’s “Take A Whiff On Me,” is a silly, annoyingly repetitive country filler that I tend to skip. On the whole, this album is definitely patchy and something of a hodgepodge (it really couldn’t not be given its format), but it’s rarely less than compelling and it has its fair share of significant highlights (it helps that Clarence White is spotlighted more on this album than any of the others). Note: Subsequent Byrds albums, including Byrdmaniax, Farther Along (both 1971), and the reunion album Byrds (1973), are primarily for completists.
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