Pete Johnson’s Blast from My Past: The Byrds “Untitled”

The Byrds are an interesting band in the history of American Rock and Roll. Their members various work have affected all of music. Whether it is the great, obscure solo records of Gene Clark, or the continued work by Roger McGuinn, where he has become the last true folkie. Go see him in concert today. He is still great. The Chris Hillman /Gram Parson’s legacy still reverberates through the alt country rock scene today as well. A lot of people point to the album “Sweetheart of the Rodeo”, but this one to me is more expansive and more indicative of what The Byrds truly were as a rock band. It was a specially priced two for one album and a large part of it is recorded live. The Byrds had a really strong line up here.

The Byrds:

Roger McGuinn – guitar, Moog synthesizer, vocals

Clarence White – guitar, mandolin, vocals

Skip Battin – electric bass, vocals

Gene Parsons – drums, guitar, harmonica, vocals

Additional personnel:

Gram Parsons – backing vocal on “All the Things”

Terry Melcher – piano on “All the Things” and “Truck Stop Girl”

Byron Berline – fiddle on “You All Look Alike”

Sneaky Pete Kleinow – pedal steel guitar on “Yesterday’s Train”

If you know rock and roll, you will recognize Parsons, Kleinow, Berline, Melcher, from their work with the Flying Burrito Brothers, The Rolling Stones, and the association with the Charles Manson story ( Melcher). They were not a hippie musician law firm. This album was the 9th album The Byrds put out. Usually a group with the personnel issues of The Byrds, would not sound this engaged or alive. Anybody who plays music knows it is different to play live as opposed to the studio. This album manages to capture The Byrds putting out some of their best efforts, in both arenas.

It starts out strong with the live “Lover of the Bayou”. It’s just a good, solid track that shows a strong band starting the evening off. It is such a great opening song and a perfect example for a band’s opening tune. Solidly constructed, no outrageously hard parts to play or sing. Not too fast, not too slow. Perfect. From there the album takes off. Originally this album was to be part of a concept record called “Gene Tryp”, which was an anagram for the Ibsen play Peer Gynt. There was a bunch written for the play/concept record that never actually reached fruition. Of those my faves is “Chestnut Mare”. “Chestnut Mare” had originally been written during 1969 for the stage production. The song was intended to be used in a scene where Gene Tryp attempts to catch and tame a wild horse, a scene that had originally featured a deer in Ibsen’s Peer Gynt. It is a magical song and performance by McGuinn and Clarence White. It truly is a treat for the ears and one of the best written and performed songs ever committed to tape.

There are many other gems as well. The 16 minute live version of “8 Miles High” is also wonderful. It really is a seat of your pants, let’s dig in and play, performance of that classic Byrds song. I actually do not think the fans even knew what song it was until they got into the performance a bit. Clarence White is a true star on this record, blowing everyone away with his instrumental work on a song like Nashville West, or his wonderful vocals on Lowell George’s “Truck Stop Girl”. They also did a great version of Lowell and Little Feat’s version of “Willin”, on the CD bonus track version of this album. “All the Things”, is also a particular fave, it features Gram Parsons singing with his old band mates once again. I always felt kind of bad for The Byrds at this stage of their career. They really were trying so hard and you can hear the results of their plans and ambitions for the music. They were ahead of the pack at this time, and that can be such a lonely place for a band that is struggling to maintain the momentum and energy of their once vibrant career. Especially, when their goal was doing music that was in sync with their mass audience. There is a lot of music on this record to absorb. That is a good thing for me. It should be for you as well! Go Buy It and Thank Me Later. ;o)

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