Firebyrd (1984) ***
Sadly, the '80s got to Gene the same as they did to every other '60s dinosaur, but since Clark was on a low, low budget (and does it sound like it) the results aren't nearly as bad as they could have been. On first listen, you might be forgiven for thinking you've picked up the wrong CD by mistake, as the low-rent sound and performances make it sound like one of those generic re-recordings of Classic Songs By Classic Artists that were floating around during the times - y'know, the Temptations as performed by the California Raisins, with a tinny glossy sheen shorn of the passion and a tinny glossy drum sound. At first I wasn't quite sure if it was Clark at all, as even his trademark shakey baritone sounded distressingly generic on the harmonies, but relax - it is him. This is a funny little album, and I do mean little: at only nine tunes, four of which are quite unnecessary covers, it fits the definition of skimpy. But '80s Gene Clark fans had to make do with what little (very little) he had to offer that decade, and considering the scarcity of post-'70s Gene Clark material, this is grudgingly essential for diehards. Bad news first: the remakes of Byrds classics are OK enough ("Mr. Tambourine Man," "Feel a Whole Lot Better,") but will never, ever, never displace the sterling originals and are beyond superfluous, the spitting definition of totally non-essential. "If I Could Read Your Mind," likewise is a fair reading, but I've already got Gordon Lightfoot's (a god amongst moosejockeys) greatest hits; "Vanessa," isn't that bad, but I have no idea what the original sounds like. Of the five remaining Clark originals, "Rodeo Rider," is too hickily country for my tastes, and "Blue Raven," is a less successful sequel to "Silver Raven," in which Clark rejoinds his darkly lit No Other classic with a tune swearing to his love that these days he's in a sunnier mood. That leaves three Clark winners: "Something About You Baby," "Rain Song," and "Made For Love," which land him back on his feet as a fine pop-rock/country songwriter. Like I said - mighty skimpy. But this album is a never less than pleasant listen, and if it's short & lightweight, who doesn't mind hearing "Feel a Whole Lot Better," for the 50th time, even in this alternate '80s version?