Monday, June 21, 2010

Byrdsian Psych Country

What did I ever know about The Byrds? "Eight Miles High," "Mr. Tambourine Man," the major players and overall history - but that's about it. And the first mostly from the Hüsker Dü cover probably...

Sweetheart of the Rodeo
More recently, there was Grails' cover of "Space Odyssey" on their great EP Interpretations of Three Psychedelic Rock Songs from Around the World (2005). They also played Flower Travellin' Band's "Satori" (Japan) and Gong's "Master Builder" (France) on that one.

Anyway, a couple of weeks back I had the chance to pick up two Byrds cd's used, including the one with "Space Odyssey" on it, The Notorious Byrd Brothers (1968). And also the next one: Sweetheart of the Rodeo (1968), much considered a classic.

"Draft Morning" from The Notorious Byrd Brothers (1968)

So, wow. The Notorious is amazing, especially considering it's non-reputation (for me at least). And contains some unexpected surprises, like opening with the West Coast-style psych-garage-pop (but with horns) of "Artificial Energy." Paranoid speed-freak melodrama?! Followed closely by its opposite, "Natural Harmony," with phased-out Moodiness and jazzy breaks. "Draft Morning" is a true gem, but really the whole album is just groovy as hell.

"Wasn't Born to Follow" from The Notorious Byrd Brothers (1968)

I thought I recognized "Wasn't Born to Follow," but didn't remember where from. Obviously, choosing video-links sorted it out for me. And more and more... The country jaunt of "Old John Robertson" versus the pure '60s of "Tribal Gathering" and "Dolphin's Smile." Could those song names be any more perfect? Plus, the bonus tracks include "Moog Raga," which is exactly as un-Byrdsian as it sounds.

"You Ain't Going Nowhere" from Sweetheart of the Rodeo (1968)
(live on Playboy after Dark, with The Band's "This Wheel's on Fire")

So, I knew a couple of things about Sweetheart: that it was primordial "country rock," and that it brought Gram Parsons temporarily into the band. Well, I had no idea how country it really was, nor that it's almost entirely covers. That first one's Dylan, also from the Easy Rider soundtrack. (Obviously, not the Hef-tv version specifically ...) The Band cover isn't on this album, but that's pretty awesome!

They do traditionals, Louvin Brothers, Woody Guthrie, even Merle Haggard! Now that's country, and more of it... Pretty convincing.

"Hickory Wind" from Sweetheart of the Rodeo (1968)

Then you get the originals snuck in towards the end, just two by Gram Parsons (not counting cd bonus tracks). "Hickory Wind" followed immediately by "One Hundred Years from Now." Nice stuff, to be sure. I'll definitely tend more towards The Notorious Byrd Brothers, but still glad I could pick up both on the cheap. Especially the expanded editions with outtakes and rehearsals.

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