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Monday, March 30, 2015

The Byrds - Farther Along (1971 us, marvelous folk country rock, Blu Spec 2014 extra tracks release)

It's been pretty well established that The Byrds had long gone past their expiration date. Roger McGuinn had already peaked as a songwriter, and none of the other band members he brought in were particularly notable songsmiths. Really, if you listen to this album, you'll likely find it to be inconsequential and without any original ideas to speak of. Well, despite that, Farther Along is an incredibly pleasing album. They learned from their mistakes well, and they started to actually sound like they were enjoying themselves! As it goes, the audience has a better chance of enjoying an album if the artists seem like they enjoyed creating it.

“Tiffany Queen” is a good start, and the only song of the album that could be construed as rock 'n' roll (and that includes the song called “Born to Rock 'n' Roll” in the bonus tracks). It's actually a somewhat convincing riff-rock song, and that's surprising considering I didn't think these guys knew what rock 'n' roll was! Yeah, it's still a tad flat, and they shouldn't have relied on a generic '50s R&B melody, but it's a sort of crunchy song that's fun to listen to. “Get Down Your Line” marks the moment when I suspected these guys were actually enjoying themselves. Musically the song isn't any great shakes, but all the band members join in for the chorus with incredibly unrehearsed, unpolished vocals and sound like they're having a blast. That's all that matters, I guess.

Nothing on here can really top “Bugler,” which probably deserves a place as a classic on these McGuinn-era Byrds albums, though not a major one. Once again, it's nothing spell bounding, but that light breezy melody is rather fun for me to hear. They also favor some rich, organic guitars, which makes it sound even better! What's more, that slide guitar is gorgeous!!

“B. B. Class Roadie” is a typical piano-boogie, but that comically guttural vocal performance keeps it lively and even comedic. It's as generic as it gets, and the musicianship isn't amazing or anything, but it's admittedly fun to hear it. “America's Great National Pastime” is even funnier, though. It sounds like a theatrical Dixieland parody (with some skiffle guitars and a music hall piano), and the lyrics are very silly. A lot of people think that song is dorky, and it is, but that's the point! ... I'm just glad they're not boring me to death with another zero-calorie gospel-folk number.

The last five songs of the album are generally the weakest, though many of them are still quite nice. “Antique Sandy” is a pleasant, atmospheric ballad with an interesting use of a vocal echo effect. That was close to being another one of their dull ballads, but with that effect and those pretty, well-mixed guitars, it had a chance to show its colors a bit. “Precious Kate” is a little dull, though... It's not a bad listen, but they don't come up with too many great ideas for it. “So Fine” and “Lazy Waters” also don't impress me much, but they're still tuneful enough for me to gather interest in it. The album ends with a finger pickin' bluegrass instrumental that sounds like royalty-free stock music. I know I already said the other songs don't have an ounce of originality, but that fact didn't seem to overwhelmingly bother me until that point. Ah well... It's the last track, and it doesn't do any harm.

The bonus tracks are surprisingly nice for bonus tracks! Many of the songs would later appear on McGuinn's solo career... which means that I know what his solo career sounds like now! Exactly like these late-career Byrds albums! “Lost My Drivin' Wheel” is very light and very nice. It's a cool sort of country-rock tune. “Born to Rock 'n' Roll” goes back and forth between a rather beautiful ballad and a more rockin' chorus. The ballad part is *much* better. Roger McGuinn was *not* born to rock 'n' roll! “Bag Full of Money” is likable, but clearly the lesser of the bonus tracks.

While this album isn't even close to measuring up to the classic Byrds albums, it's an incredibly even album and possibly the best of the McGuinn-era works. I guess the major problem with it is that it's without a single, really compelling song that's an equal to beautiful numbers like “Ballad of Easy Rider” and “Lover of the Bayou.” The closest thing this album has is “Buglar,” and there's next to no chance that you'll get that one stuck in your head... So, this is a solid album, but there's not much that will inspire you to listen to this too frequently. 
by Michael Lawrence

1. Tiffany Queen (Roger McGuinn) - 2:40
2. Get Down Your Line (Gene Parsons) - 3:26
3. Farther Along (Traditional, Arranged Clarence White) - 2:57
4. B.B. Class Road (Gene Parsons, Stuart Dawson) - 2:15
5. Bugler (Larry Murray) - 3:07
6. America's Great National Pastime (Skip Battin, Kim Fowley) - 2:57
7. Antique Sandy (Roger McGuinn, Skip Battin, Gene Parsons, Clarence White, Jimmi Seiter) - 2:12
8. Precious Kate (Skip Battin, Kim Fowley) - 2:59
9. So Fine (Johnny Otis) - 2:37
10.Lazy Waters (Bob Rafkin) - 3:33
11.Bristol Steam Convention Blues (Gene Parsons, Clarence White) - 2:42
12.America's Great National Pastime (Mono Single Version) (Skip Battin, Kim Fowley) - 2:54
13.Lost My Drivin' Wheel (David Wiffen) - 4:57
14.Born To Rock And Roll (Roger McGuinn) - 2:58
15.Bag Full Of Money (Roger McGuinn, Jacques Levy) - 3:19
16.He Was A Friend Of Mine (Traditional Arr. Roger McGuinn) - 2:27
17.Paths Of Victory (Bob Dylan) - 3:10
18.From A Distance (Julie Gold) - 3:14
19.Love That Never Dies (Roger McGuinn, Stan Lynch) - 3:57
Bonus Tracks 12-19
Tracks 18-19 recorded in 1990

The Byrds
*Roger McGuinn - Guitar, Vocals
*Clarence White - Guitar, Vocals
*Skip Battin - Electric Bass, Vocals
*Gene Parsons - Drums, Harmonica, Banjo, Vocals
*Charles Lloyd - Saxophone
*John Guerin - Drums
*Buddy Emmons - Pedal Steel Guitar

The Byrds
1964  The Byrds - Preflyte (2012 Edition)
1968  The Byrds - Sweetheart Of The Rodeo  (Double Disc Set)
1969  The Byrds - Live At Fillmore
1971  The Byrds - Live At Royal Albert Hall
1971  The Byrds - Byrdmaniax (2013 Japan Blu Spec edition)
1973  Byrds - Byrds
1973  Roger McGuinn - Roger McGuinn (2013 Edition) 
1976  Roger McGuinn - Cardiff Rose (2013 edition)
1979  McGuinn, Clark And Hillman (2014 Japan SHM Remaster)

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