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LPs from the Attic: The Byrds — The Byrds

March 29, 2010

The Byrds — The Byrds (Asylum, 1973)

This should have been a great record. On paper, looking at the personnel and track list, it certainly looked like it was guaranteed: the fantastic original lineup of Roger McGuinn, Chris Hillman, Gene Clark, Michael Clarke, and David Crosby doing new Byrdsongs and covers by Joni Mitchell and Neil Young. Self-referential and -reflective titles like “Full Circle” engender thoughts of renewal and strength of purpose. The album cover shows all hands on-deck and awash in the red glow of the stage lights as they play in tight formation. David Crosby appears to be smiling a bit as he sings. On the back cover, the band makes with the camaraderie at what we assume to be a favorite watering hole. All things seemed in place. This *should* have been a great record.

But it isn’t nearly as great as it should have been; it certainly isn’t greater than the sum of its parts, and that’s a shame. Where the average fan back in 1973–and the long-time fan in 2010, for that matter–was looking for a reinvigorated, fully engaged Flyght, he only finds what amounts to a better-than average “phone-in” by all present. This seems more like a one-off gathering where the members were more interested in promoting solo material than functioning as a cohesive unit.

While McGuinn‘s “Born to Rock ‘n’ Roll” proves a sturdy rock anthem and criminally underrated Gene Clark turns in a few gems with “Changing Heart” and “Full Circle,” the rest of the material is well-played but uninspiring. At least ole Neil wouldn’t put ’em down for their cover of “Cowgirl in the Sand”–it’s pretty damn good.

That said, listening to the 12-string jingle-jangle and those magnificent harmonies, I realize that the classic Byrds trademarks are in place and up to snuff. The Byrds at their worst–and this is far from any nadir–were still better than many of their contemporaries (and present-day devotees) at their best.

Track list

1) Full Circle

2) Sweet Mary

3) Changing Heart

4) For Free

5) Born to Rock ‘n’ Roll

6) Things Will Be Better

7) Cowgirl in the Sand

8) Long Live the King

9) Borrowing Time

10) Laughing

11) (See the Sky) About to Rain

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