Gene Clark with the Gosdin Brothers
omewhere between Laurel Canyon and Liverpool lies the musical legacy of Gene Clark. His full-throated lilt, brooding good looks, and songwriting prowess allowed him to exert a great deal of influence on the early development of the Byrds, who produced some of their best records with Clark as a member. McGuinn’s chiming 12-string and Crosby’s larger-than-life stage antics met their foil in Clark’s understated presence and focused, country-inflected compositions. In 1965, the Byrds rose to fame on the heels of their electrified version of Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man” and tensions between band members quickly escalated. Clark departed shortly thereafter, hampered by emotional exhaustion and a fear of flying, and soon embarked upon a brilliant, but devastatingly mismanaged solo career.
Gene Clark with the Gosdin Brothers was released 10 months after Clark’s departure from the Byrds, and it finds him largely re-examining his former band’s mod-folk style. Resonating guitar refrains and tightly-woven harmonies propel the songs into sonic territory that remains consistent with what the Byrds were doing on 1965’s Turn! Turn! Turn!.
“Elevator Operator” is a wry portrait of the archetypal, junky-chanteuse which Dylan had perfected on 1966’s “Visions of Johanna.” In typical Byrds fashion, Clark removes all of the metaphorical twists and surrealist imagery and doles out a straightforward set of lyrics that provide a humorous and playful image of the doped-up femme fatale, “She was an elevator operator she had her ups and downs / She got so high so very fast it took her all day to come down.” He mocks her tedious games, but helplessly worships her unavailability, “She was one of the girls that could make you feel that you were up to stay / But when you began to think it was real / She took you down all the way.”
There are a series of similarly engaging, up-tempo numbers that display Clark’s remarkable consistency as a pop songwriter. “Is Yours Is Mine” is a British Invasion style rocker that shamelessly channels McCartney’s “Paperback Writer,” while the charming “Think I’m Gonna Feel Fine” evokes Burt Bacharach and the Lovin’ Spoonful’s breezy pop sing-a-longs.
Despite the album’s dominating load of catchy rock ‘n’ roll, there are a couple of introspective anthems that shed the Byrds’ power-pop trappings and explore Clark’s tortured, folk-bard persona. “The Same One” is an oblique, slice-of-life exploration of broken romance and personal angst that reveals Clark’s burgeoning talents as a folk storyteller. The ghostly harmonies and ascending bass refrains suspend the disillusioned protagonist in a somber fusion of rock instrumentation and damaged folk introspection.
“Echoes” is a bizarre masterstroke that fuses a lavish string and woodwind arrangement with some of Clark’s most surreal and boldly poetic lyrical couplets, “The lights go on / Commence the cold / As your senses will be sold / To the parrot watchers mimicking no reason.” The result is a production that is unlike anything else in the Gene Clark canon—a song that sounded like a kaleidoscopic version of Bob Dylan’s “Gates of Eden” arranged by Ennio Morricone.
Gene Clark with the Gosdin Brothers is an album that finds its artist in transition between his two artistic personas: The power-pop titan and the visionary poet. Better albums, like 1971’s White Light would go on to fully realize his talents in the singer-songwriter vein. He was a ceaseless innovator and a true craftsman who honed his skills and evolved with each album he produced. His botched PR campaigns and lack of record sales lead to his marginalization as a true country-rock pioneer and his contributions and legacy should be on par with the likes of Gram Parsons and the Flying Burrito Brothers—if not Bob Dylan or Neil Young.
Reviewed by: Matt Kivel
Reviewed on: 2007-05-01