GENE CLARK Gene Clark (A&M)
This is the former Byrd's debut solo album, originally issued in 1971, which was to be titled "White Light" until the first sleeves arrived with the album's title mysteriously absent. It's a fabulous amalgam of country, rock and folk, not dissimilar from the cosmic American music Gram Parsons fashioned both in and out of The Flying Burrito Brothers, arguably even more cohesive since Clark is responsible for a greater proportion of the songwriting than Parsons ever achieved.
"With Tomorrow" is a gently chiming acoustic wonder - think Nick Drake trapped in California - which was covered by This Mortal Coil, a sure indication of exemplary songcraft. The joyous "White Light" is a glorious mash-up of country and folk, sung by Clark with a grin and a cry in his voice. "Because Of You" is stately and sly, and Bob Dylan once confessed that "For A Spanish Guitar" was one of few songs he'd written himself. In fact it might have slipped in seamlessly somewhere between "The Times They Are A-Changin'" and "Bringing It All Back Home", if it weren't for the lush, romantic glow Clark brings to this and practically every song on this fabulous album. He repays the compliment with a cover of "Tears Of Rage" that's almost skittish alongside the funereal wheeze of The Band's version, but it diminishes the song not a jot whilst allowing it to slide seamlessly in with the rest of the record.
This reissue offers some useful booklet notes from Long Ryder/Coal Porter Syd Griffin, along with an alternate version of "Because Of You" and another four songs unbelievably excluded from the original album. There's an unlikely but excellent cover of "Stand By Me", which chips away at the same country-soul interface explored by The Flying Burrito Brothers' version of "Do Right Woman". Even finer are "Ship Of The Lord", "Opening Day" and "Winter In", which sound like some kind of backporch -gospel, like a tiny church community gathered in country-rock song, spiked with subtle references to angels and hymns.
"Gene Clark" is a terrific, unjustly ignored album. It easily ranks alongside Gram Parsons' finest solo work, whilst offering a sense of density and cohesion that the former's catalogue sometimes lacks. These aren't songs with big, stomping choruses, but subtle melodies with layers of enfolded meaning, music that's immediately appealing but whose charms are still revealing themselves many listens later. If you enjoy country rock and singer-songwriters of any flavour, I can't recommend this highly enough.GENE CLARK No Other (Asylum)
Gene Clark's long lost (well, for lost read ignored, forgotten or at least unreleased on CD, which would appear to be lazy shorthand for cultdom in the eyes and ears of some journalists without gramophones) album "No Other" is a superficially glorious and ultimately spectral amalgam of "The Gilded Palace Of Sin" and "Surf's Up", a chrome plated technicolor paean to and examination of Hollywood excess. Heck, it even arrives dressed in a Pepperesque collage of what could easily have been props and set dressings from "Chinatown".
"Life's Greatest Fool" plunges the listener gently but firmly into the warm, whirling vortex that exists at the point where yeehaw country and western intermingles with gospel testimony, Reverend Gene offering up such gnomic wisdom as "Too much loneliness makes you grow old". Former Mercury Rev singer David Baker, a.k.a. Shady, covered this song on his sole solo album, shortly before falling off the musical map altogether. "Silver Raven" follows, like the early Eagles but frightened, a sensation possibly accentuated by the presence of Timothy B Schmit on vocals. The title track is where wires really start to cross: long and languid, the congas and funky, fuzzy keyboards are strongly evocative of the kind of directions in music Tim Buckley was exploring at the time, in the studio if not on record (see/hear his flabbergasting "The Dream Belongs To Me Rare And Unreleased Recordings 1968/1973" for details). "Strength Of Strings" is a high concept piece in which Clark attempted to articulate the very process by which music is assimilated. His success can be gauged by the fact that it was covered by 4AD's velveteen magpie studio ensemble This Mortal Coil, always a seal of quality.
Over on what used to be side two, "From A Silver Phial" is a dispassionate but poetic examination of cocaine burnout - and as a random aside, consider how perfectly Teenage Fanclub's mesmerising tributary "Gene Clark" would have fitted on this album. "Some Misunderstanding" finds the former Byrd painting a broad, mysterious sonic canvas that shifts and unsettles whilst never really changing, although it's not too difficult to make something of your own from the killer chorus couplets "I know if you sell your soul/To brighten your role/You might be disappointed in the lights/We all need a fix/At a time like this/But doesn't it feel good to stay alive". "No Other" was recorded the year after Gram Parsons died from an overdose. "The True One" is the nearest "No Other" travels to conventional country rock: its faint air of fingerpointing moralising wouldn't have been out of place on the first Flying Burrito Brothers album, the lines "I used to treat my friends like I was more than a millionaire/Spendin' those big ones like I could afford them all upstairs" particularly. The original album closes with "Lady Of The North", a gloriously stretched-out psychedelic pastoral, the Floyd's "Grantchester Meadows" transplanted to the California countryside, Clark travelling by metaphor: "Flying high above the clouds/We lay in the grassy meadow". It was his fear of air travel, remember, that hastened his departure from The Byrds.
Seven bonus tracks follow, all alternate takes bar a version of "Train Leaves Here This Morning", a song written by Clark and Bernie Leadon but popularised by the Eagles on their debut. Bereft of a few layers of the sonic fairy dust producer Thomas Jefferson Kaye brought to the proceedings proper, they nevertheless stand up strongly as songs even if they don't fulfil the full, glorious potential of the released equivalents. Placed in the context of the man's earlier, eponymous album, on which any could have snuggled up happily, they demonstrate what a giant step into the unthinkable "No Other" really represents. Inspect the alternate take of the title track, for example: all the elements seem to be present and correct, but it also battles a sense of unease and uncertainty absent from the finished piece, although the stripped down "From A Silver Phial" offers some of Clark's most expressive, tremulous singing. Appropriately, all the stops have been pulled out in packaging this reissue, in tribute to the original album's lavish excess and snowballing reputation, with booklet notes by Long Ryder Sid Griffin and Byrds biographer Johnny Rogan. But the sound and songs of "No Other" would be enough on their own - it's the whole of cosmic American music, from "Sweetheart Of The Rodeo" to "Deserter's Songs", compressed into one handy package.