Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Gene Clark - Roadmaster

Roadmaster (1972) ***1/2

After a string of commercial failures (if artistic triumphs), Gene Clark was such a commercially dubious proposition that the record company only released this in Holland, because the Dutch were apparently the only countrymen with ears wise enough for White Light to sell like tulips in Dikeland.  It's an uneven album of odds and ends, with material culled from several different sessions over several different years.  The opener, "She's the Kind of Girl," sounds like it was written by the Clark of a decade earlier, as it's the kind of simpler teenbeat fare fit for the Byrds '65 - and it's unsurprising that it is, indeed, an outtake from the Byrds' failed 1973 reunion.  It's delightful Beatlesque folk-pop and gets the album rolling off on a good start.  The next track, "One in a Hundred," had appeared in a more downbeat version on his 1971 solo album, but reappears here in a sprightlier reunified Byrds version; "Full Circle Song," is another Byrds cut, one that would turn up a year later on the Byrds' s/t.  "Here Tonight," and "In a Misty Morning," are pop-country ballads featuring the Flying Burrito Bros. (sans Gram Parsons) as backup band, and are quite good, though the gloop of syrupy strings on "In a Misty Morning," drag it down a bit.  So, the first five songs are fine examples of Clark and his songcraft in strong form, and crucially containing one virtue that White Light lacked - diversity.  From then on the parts that this longplayer was cobbled together from start to creak.  "Rough and Rocky," is a fair Flatt & Scruggs cover, slowed down to mournful soulfulness, but the title track finds Clark in strutting cock-of-the-road posturing, a style that doesn't suit his gentlemanly, taciturn persona at all.  The soggy remake of the classic Byrds B-side, "She Don't Care About Time," slowed down several tempos, doesn't work and comes off as unnecessary padding.  The other three ballads that close off the record are mostly gloopy and forgettable pop-country with strong gospel feels. though they have their lyrical and melodic moments.  Despite its unevenness - unsurprising given the hodgepodge nature of the source material - another solid winner from one of classic rock's most perplexingly underrated singer-songwriters.  Almost as perplexing as how a tune as first-rately Byrdsy as "She's the Kind of Girl," got left off their underwhelming 1973 reunion album.  Why, McGuinn?  Tell me why?  Why?

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