Gene Clark – Here Tonight: The White Light Demos (2013)

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Gene Clark was ever restless, the constant traveler, from his sudden departure after a stirring two-year tenure with the Byrds into solo career that careened from one style to another, to his untimely alcohol-fueled end at just 46.

That’s why the just-released Here Tonight: The White Light Demos — filled, as they are, with an abiding sense of faith, and of contentment — simply stopped me in my tracks. As Clark works through the early demos of songs that would eventually emerge as his second solo effort, White Light, I couldn’t get over how happy he sounded, as if he had finally put everything together.

That 1971 album was itself hailed a wonder of stripped-down authenticity, but Here Tonight pulls everything away from Clark except for his guitar and the occasional flash of harmonica. I’m not sure he’s ever sounded better. Stark and involving, Here Tonight makes clear his role as the conscience, and the beating heart, of the original Byrds — even if Roger McGuinn and David Crosby always got more credit.

Originally produced by the late Jesse Ed Davis, these demos include six tunes that — with the addition of a group that included the Flying Burrito Brothers’ bassist and two members of the early Steve Miller Band — would eventually find their way onto White Light: The spiritually uplifting title track, Clark’s classic “For a Spanish Guitar” (which Bob Dylan has spoken of in wonder), the confidential paean “Because of You,” his sad reminiscence “The Virgin,” the Byrds-ian jangle-pop song “Where My Love Lies Asleep,” and, finally, Clark’s heart-filling “With Tomorrow.”

Later, “Opening Day” and “Winter In” (both of them flecked with as much writerly specificity as any poem) would appear on a 2002 reissue of White Light. The utterly gorgeous “Here Tonight,” meanwhile, is an alternate take on a track that eventually appeared on Close Up the Honky Tonks, by the Flying Burrito Brothers.

Most interesting of all, however, are the three tracks that are seeing release for the first time with this Clark family-approved project: “For No One,” this quiet meditation on an impossibly fragile figure; “Please Mr. Freud,” this stream-of-consciousness declamation which almost out-Dylans Dylan; and “Jimmy Christ,” a determined cry for understanding in a hard-eyed world.

As these songs unfold, the loss, the very real tragedy, of Clark’s loss becomes real all over again — as does a sense of thankfulness for the times like these, be they ever so brief, when the doomed genius found himself at peace.

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Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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