Untitled/Unissued, Byrdmaniax, Farther Along, Live at the Fillmore -- February 1969
Reviewed by Raoul Hernandez, Fri., May 19, 2000
Farther Along (Columbia/Legacy)
Live at the Fillmore -- February 1969 (Columbia/Legacy)As appropriate as it may seem, the silver death mask that adorns 1971's Byrdmaniax did not signal the Byrds' demise. That came the following year with Farther Along, but Columbia Legacy's latest batch of Byrds reissues does cap off the label's four-year-plus restoration of the psychedelic folk-rock pioneers' original catalog (the posthumous demos collection, Pre-Flyte, and Greatest Hits II notwithstanding). Following the '97 rerelease of peak-era albums The Notorious Byrd Brothers, Sweetheart of the Rodeo, Dr. Byrds and Mr. Hyde, and Ballad of Easy Rider, these final four LPs not only sound far better than history's critical consensus leads us to believe, they serve as ultimate testament to stringbender extraordinaire Clarence White. "The greatest thing about Clarence was that he never played anything that sounded vaguely weak, or like a mistake," says Roger McGuinn in the liner notes to the fiery Live at the Fillmore. "He was always driving -- into the music -- and that pulled the whole band up." It certainly did. Along with the honey-voiced McGuinn, bassist Skip Battin, and drummer Gene Parsons (no relation to Gram), White was part and parcel of the Bryds' most stable and perhaps most musically proficient lineup. If the material on this last group of albums doesn't match up to that of Fifth Dimension or maybe Dr. Byrds and Mr. Hyde, the sound does; the 24-bit mastering on these far outshines even the remastering done on the Byrds box set. In these No Depression salad days, when Jeff Tweedy and Wilco have taken up where Farther Along left off, the Byrds' 1969-1972 quartet plays like a jazz band -- as one. Untitled/Unissued, which supplements the original 2-LP set with a bonus disc of previously unreleased material, is now twice as ripe as its designated "Great Lost Byrds Album" status, disc one beginning with a biting live set before giving way to a studio side of crackling Americana fare, while the second disc reverses the order with revealing alternate versions bleeding into another live set that completes the cycle of the first side. Byrdmaniax, a critical and commercial disaster, may be as disjointed as reviews claimed at the time, but most of these same critics didn't like Sweetheart of the Rodeo either, and if the Gram Parsons-blessed classic is ground zero for "country rock," then Maniax is full-blown "gospel rock." Farther Along was the group's last album by default, as McGuinn went on to record a solo album that eventually led to a reunion of the original Byrds, but its authentic Dylan and the Band feel solidifies its status as further blueprint of today's roots-rock revival. In the case of all three albums, bonus tracks and restored artwork boost the works' critical standing within the Bryds catalog. A recently unearthed live recording, Live at the Fillmore -- February 1969, crowns this set magnificently by capturing the Byrds soaring at full altitude. If White hadn't died in 1973 at age 29, run down by a drunk driver while loading his musical equipment curbside, the cover of Byrdmaniax wouldn't hold such grim irony.
(Live at the Fillmore)