A YEAR IN MUSIC: DOUG HILLARD & GENE CLARK – The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard & Clark (1968)

A YEAR IN MUSIC: 1968
Reviewed by: Charly Saenz

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There are some musical genres that will split the audience in two, and I’ll readily include Country Rock in that lot. I ain’t been a fan myself, after all, liking some faux cowboy british stuff, like Dead Flowers or Muswell Hillbillies, however cool, won’t mean that you’re in the Country Music appreciation business. No more than taking a selfie with a dead cow on Route 66.

So it took me a couple of feverish months of listening to heaps of Gene Clark music, going back from its magnificent 1974 masterpiece to the point where he broke up with those nasty Byrds guys (Silver Ravens?) and he started a low profile but endearing career playing the music he loved, with lots of folk and bits of psychedelia and even soul; but firmly rooted in Purely American Country rock. At least he didn’t have to fly anymore: pun intended, but in fact it was actually like that.

And this is some Country Music that really appeals to me. As an opener, “Out On The Side” is a nice classic folkish tune by Gene, not that far from that Cosmic Soul Country Music from 1974 (add some gospelish backing vocals and there you go). And these words, I do gracefully understand now:

“No I’m not looking to find any holes
From what I think has been denied
That’s not the feeling of love when it flows
I hope I can lose that much pride”

Doug Dillard brings authenticity to the roots sound with his majestic banjo playing; He’s really outstanding in “She darkened the sound”, and Gene brings a more subdued singing style that matches Bernie Leadon’s great backing vocals.

In fact Leadon really put a lot in this album both in his musical performance (he plays several instruments) and in the songwriting area: listen to “Train Leaves Here This Morning” and you’ll know what I’m talking about. Eagles, in your face: You cannot really start to compete. But well you know, a future Eagle, Bernie Leadon co-wrote it with Gene, so well they had some right to play it. Instant classic.

“With Care from Someone” is awesome, a perfect amalgam of the three main musicians talent, there’s a vocal line by Gene almost opposite to the intricate banjo/guitar/harmonica interplay. Pure ear candy for the country uninitiated. “The Radio Song” follows with an even more delicate delivery, with some added piercing keyboard (is that a xylophone?) for utter pleasure.

But don’t let the laid back vibe fool you: there’s touches of colour from the pop/folk rock sensibility by the author of “I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better”. “Don’t Come Rollin'” is such a song; you might have included it in The Beatles’ Help, that nice Byrdie folkrockish album.

Towards the end of the album, “Git It On Brother” doesn’t do it for me, this is way too .. country, not much rock here, and it feels quite like a cliché. But it’s just a little spot clocking under the 3 minutes, so I’ll let it go. The album closes with “Something’s Wrong”, a perfect song-song in any genre. The bass pulse and the heavy guitar plucking really make it a pretty instrumental match to Gene’s gloomy singing.

So – this is quite a groundbreaking album for its time; it’s probably less rootsy (or shall I say authentic) than say Willie Nelson or Cash, but for me it’s just like a Screwdriver (no, not the tool, the drink): you need alcohol but the juice must be there, else you’d be drunken in a few minutes… WAIT, this might not be a good selling point for the album…

Let’s start again: There are some genres that will split the audience..

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