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The Byrds - Byrdmaniax

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The Byrds - Byrdmaniax

Post  Mr007 on Sun Feb 20, 2011 12:00 pm


Byrdmaniax by The Byrds
Originally released June 23, 1971 as Columbia KC 30640


1. Glory, Glory
2. Pale Blue
3. I Trust
4. Tunnel of Love
5. Citizen Kane
6. I Wanna Grow Up to Be a Politician
7. Absolute Happiness
8. Green Apple Quick Step
9. My Destiny
10. Kathleen's Song
11. Jamaica Say You Will

By now, we've all heard the legend of Byrdmaniax. The Byrds have restored their critical and commercial standing with Ballad of Easy Rider and (Untitled), they record their next album, then leave the mixing to producer Terry Melcher so they can begin on a 200 city tour. Melcher then goes and ruins the album by pouring on the commercial cheese in the form of strings, woodwinds, a choir of female backup singers, etc. This is all factually accurate. Furthermore, the reports are correct, this is indeed the Byrds' worst LP. However, "the Byrds' worst LP" is like saying you only found $40 laying on the ground when you're used to finding $75. For most bands, this album is pretty-damn-good to outright-great.

It may be unfair to look at it this way, but if it weren't for Terry Melcher's production, Byrdmaniax could have ended up as one of the best later-period Byrds records. I view Byrdmaniax as the Byrds' Smiley Smile. Both were done by bands who got into a mellow space and did an album to reflect that. Both albums were also released to scathing reviews and backlash from fans at the time of their release. Time, however, has restored Smiley Smile's critical standing and public acceptance. This is not the case with Byrdmaniax, and unfairly so.

One of the things that has always stood out to me about Byrdmaniax, bad production aside, is that it actually contains some of the best songs that the individual band members ever contributed to a Byrds record. In my opinion, the only two mis-steps in terms of songwriting are Skip Battin's "Tunnel of Love" (which has charm in and of itself) and Roger McGuinn's "I Wanna Grow Up to Be a Politician".

McGuinn provided three gems for this record. "Pale Blue" is without question the record's highlight and one of the highlights of his entire songwriting career. The "hominess" of that song is its real strength. "Kathleen's Song" is almost certainly my favorite McGuinn lead vocal on the album and is an absolutely gorgeous song. If you don't dig the Byrdmaniax mix, check out the alternate mix on the 1990 box set without Melcher's syrup. That'll give you your facts all you need. His other gem on this album, "I Trust", has a killer melody and great lyrics.

Gene Parsons and Clarence White turn in their best collaboration on a Byrds LP with "Green Apple Quick Step", an awesome bluegrass number that features some great banjo picking courtesy of White. It's cool to listen behind the banjo and hear McGuinn playing his acoustic guitar, trying to keep up with Clarence White. Gene Parsons provides some great harmonica fills and fiddler Byron Berline was brought in to seal the deal. If you can listen to this without helplessly tapping your foot in time, you're a far better person than I.

Skip Battin' shines with "Citizen Kane", a song about 1930s Hollywood megalomania, complete with a vintage Vaudeville sound that compliments the lyrics perfectly. Battin also delivered in spades with "Absolute Happiness", hands down the best song he ever wrote for a Byrds album, and possibly the best song he ever wrote period.

Of the album's three covers, "Glory, Glory" and the traditional tune "My Destiny" are both very nicely done, but they don't hold a candle to the reading of Jackson Browne's "Jamaica Say You Will" which closes the album. Clarence White delivers a vocal performance that will leave you feeling dirty, used and wanting more. The raw emotion in his delivery makes it a classic moment in the Byrds' cannon. The man's guitar playing always spoke for itself, but he was also a far better singer than a lot of people give him credit for.

In closing, I urge everyone to go back and listen to Byrdmaniax again, but when you do, check any pre-conceived notions at the door. Enjoy what it has to offer the listener. It's a mellow, reflective album that contains many delicate and beautiful songs. It's not perfect, but few albums are. And as David Fricke correctly pointed out in the liner notes on the CD reissue in 2000, "Byrdmaniax isn't just for Byrd maniacs".

3.5/5

pa udstyr
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Mr007

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