Gene Clark – Firebyrd (1984): On Second Thought

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In early 1966, Byrds co-founder and primary songwriter Gene Clark departed the successful Los Angeles band to pursue a solo career that led to a series of musical adventures. Signing on as the most commercially oriented of the bunch, Firebyrd couples roots rock riggings with brassy pop hooks to highly satisfying effect.

A cast of familiar faces contributed their talents to the album, including the likes of former Byrds bassist Chris Hillman, Steve Miller Band guitarist Greg Douglass, flautist Bud Shank, and banjo picker Herb Pedersen who supplied back up vocals and harmonies. Sympathetic to the material and handling their assigned roles with confidence and comfort, these players prove to be a mighty suitable fit.

Gene’s rich and earthy vocals are in stellar shape throughout Firebyrd (Takoma Records). The energy is refreshing, while the composition and organization is tight and to the point, prompting each track on this album to pack an emotional punch. Catchy choruses, ranging from gospel influenced to polished pop stylings, cement the production.

Original efforts such as the sweeping shimmer of the soul-slanted “Something About You Baby,” the grunting blues of “Vanessa” and the yearning reflections of “Rain Song” emphasize Gene Clark’s skill for nailing razor sharp verse to firm melodies. Injected with the whistling tone of a flute, the classy “Blue Raven” and the bouncy country-colored “Rodeo Rider” are further guaranteed to win friends.

[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: Gene Clark joined Beverly Paterson to discuss adapting from one genre to another, the lasting impact of the Byrds, and his genre-melding creative process.]

Acknowledging his Byrds days, Gene reprises Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man,” which was a No. 1 hit for the band in the summer of 1965. Disrobing the jangle and remodeling the song into a stirring piano-dominated piece of meditated beauty, Clark provides an entirely different angle to the mix. A rendition of Gene Clark’s own “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better” also from 1965, is featured here as well, and nixes the power-popping jingle in favor of a swaying country tempo.

Gordon Lightfoot’s “If You Could Read My Mind” is additionally revisited. Although the basic ingredients remain, Gene pours extra layers of depth and expression into the interpretation, making the ballad even sadder than the initial recording which topped the charts in 1971.

Despite the fact Clark’s work never lacked critical praise, mainstream acceptance was not to be had, and Firebyrd was no exception. Gene Clark passed away in 1991, leaving behind a catalog of impressively innovative and creative albums. New generations have discovered his music, and it is no stretch of truth to say his star shines brighter now than when he was alive.

Beverly Paterson

Beverly Paterson

Beverly Paterson was born the day Ben E. King hit No. 4 with "Stand By Me" -- which is actually one of her favorite songs, especially John Lennon's version. She's contributed to Lance Monthly and Amplifier, and served as Rock Beat International's associate editor. Paterson has also published Inside Out, and Twist & Shake. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Beverly Paterson
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