Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Gene Clark & Carla Olsen - So Rebellious a Lover

So Rebellious a Lover (1987) ****

A surprising late-period comeback that showed that even a few short years from his premature death in 1991, Clark still possessed a surfeit of talent.  Of course he had more than a little help from his friends, as one tell from the billing and cover featuring the lovely Ms. Olson, a husky-voiced alt.country-punker from the Textones who reminds me a bit of Lucinda Williams in voice, looks, and songwriting style.  This is a duet album in the truest sense of the word, being more or less evenly split between solo Carla showcases, solo Gene showcases, and tunes where they duet and harmonize in tandem.   The music?  As you'd expect from the blue-denimed cover, it's straight-up country rock, with a relaxed and understated band loping along pleasantly and professionally, with the occasional touch of instrumental color (Chris Hillman cameos on gorgeous mandolin on "Gypsy Rider").  Likewise, the songs themselves (in this kind of music, these are the focus, after all) are a well-chosen and pleasing mixture of traditional standards, Olson-penned tunes, and Clark-penned tunes, again roughly split proportionally three-ways.  What it adds up to is a first-rate country-rock album, modest in ambition but effortlessly achieving all it sets out to do.

Of the covers, their poignant duet of Woody Guthrie's eulogiac "Deportees" suits the standard far better than the Byrds' sprightliness did, and a reworking of the traditional Olde English ballad, "Fair and Tender Ladies," is nearly as breathtaking in its sad loveliness as "Scarborough Fair," though not nearly as ethereal.  John Fogerty's "Almost Saturday Night," gets a jaunty bluegrass reading that betters the somewhat abrasive original, and to bring matters full circle, Clark performs a soulful reading of another dead Byrds' song, "Hot Burrito #1" (here wisely renamed "I'm Your Toy").  It doesn't erase the memory of the definitive Gram Parsons original, but it's tastefully excellent.  And then there's Joe South's "Don't It Make You Want To Go Home," which is rather....hicky.  But not in a terribly bad way!  Actually pretty good.

But let's move on to the originals.  Olson's "The Drifter," and "Every Angel in Heaven," are compellingly literate and intelligent examples of Poetry-Major Grad-School Dropout country-rock (see: Williams, Lucinda; Kristofferson, Kris), compelling story-songs; but "Are We Still Making Love," is icky-some Harlequin-Romance-Reading Housewife country.  And so now we move on to the tunes you're really waiting to dig in this album for:  the small handful of Gene Clark originals.  Only "Gyspy Rider," truly earns its place in the canon, honestly, but how it does:  turn the lights down low, close your eyes, and drift away - this song is better than a lonesome midnight ramble.  "Del Gato," tells another fine story-song, though melodically it's a bit too similar to "Give My Love to Marie," from a previous album; and "Why Did You Leave," is sad and lovely, but eh - not much more to say about it. 

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