Honored by 4AD with its most comprehensive deluxe edition yet, this grounded Byrd’s solo masterpiece proves true to its title at last
Over the years, there have been any number of artists who felt alone, unappreciated and unable to cope with pressures imposed by stardom.
Tim Buckley, Jeff Buckley, Tim Hardin, Nick Drake, Janis Joplin, and Brian Jones are only a few of those who possessed the genius, but not the stability or stamina needed to reconcile their skills with survival. In every case it led to a sad demise, generally in tragic circumstances and far earlier than anyone ever imagined.
Gene Clark was one of those artists. An ill-fated troubadour, singer, songwriter, and sex symbol, he helmed the Byrds early on before going on to influence legions of Americana auteurs who revere him even now, nearly three decades after his passing. The Eagles, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Tom Petty, Iain Matthews, the Black Crowes and Robert Plan are only a handful of those who have cited his songs as having an indelible imprint on efforts of their own. Sadly though, his preliminary departure from the Byrds at the very height of their success — a decision exacerbated by his fear of flying, hedonistic lifestyle and internal squabbles within the band — deterred his progress, and although he would regroup with them at various intervals in the decades after, his solo career never attained the heights it should have. He would release several superior albums, both on his own and with the Dilliards, the Gosdin Brothers and eventually Carla Olson, but the acclaim that should have come to him at the time never transpired, and like those other aforementioned lost souls, he would only be fully appreciated posthumously.
Indeed, while Clark achieved the majority of his attention during his brief stint in The Byrds, a span of little more than two years apart from subsequent reunions, it accounts for only a small portion of a career that lasted more than 30 years. Throughout the rest of it, he immersed himself in a solitary sound gleaned from his early days as a folkie with the New Christy Minstrels while constantly striving to attain some measure of solo success.
No Other was meant to be the vehicle that would get him there. Clark envisioned it as a sweeping epic of sorts that would encompass a vast array of sonic embellishments while fitting comfortably with the more extravagant extremes that dominated the musical landscape of the mid to late ‘70s. The ‘20s noir cover captured him in full show biz motif, complete with a plunging neckline, a gown and a fanciful glam rock pose, but as it turned out, Clark’s ambitions outweighed his label’s intents.
Although his inspiration was drawn from meditations and observations gleaned by the ocean view accorded him from his secluded Pacific coast hideaway, the actual recording went well beyond the budget accorded him by his new label, Asylum Records.
But while he had a credible cast to assist him — including producer Thomas Jefferson Kaye, members of the all-star session group The Section, Tim Schmitt, fellow Byrd Chris Hillman, guitarist Jesse Ed Davis, fiddler Richard Greene, errant Allman Brother Butch Trucks, and singers Cindy Bullens and Claudia Lennear, Venetta Fields, Clydie King, Sherlie Matthews — the combination of a sweeping, cinematic sound and a philosophical foundation doomed it to commercial failure.
Asylum offered little in the way of a promotional push, and while the critics were mostly kind, it was left to reside in that obscure strata of would-be masterpieces that only belatedly attained the attention they deserved.
With the benefit of retrospect, it becomes evident that its initial fate was wholly unjustified. Songs such as “Life’s Greatest Fool,” “No Other,” From a Silver Phial,” “The True One,” and “Lady of the North” rank among Clark’s best, bequeathing it was the same sort of stature later given such rarified works as Love’s Forever Changes and the Zombies’ mistimed masterpiece Odessey and Oracle.
4AD’s reissue — available as both a two disc offering and an elaborate box set complete with a coffee table-sized book — will hopefully bring it the belated recognition it deserves. The bigger box will set buyers back a couple of hundred dollars, but the compact compendium ought to serve fans just fine, thanks Byrds archivist Johnny Rogan’s liner notes and an extra disc of early stripped down session takes on the album tracks and a nascent version of “Train Leaves Here. This Morning,” famously recorded by both Dilliard and Clark and the Eagles on their initial outing. It’s refreshing to hear the material in its seminal form, sans the elaborate trappings that later accompanied the finished recordings
Since his tragic death in 1991, the result of drug abuse, ill health and general excess, Clark’s level of appreciation has risen substantially, and yet to many, he still remains a mystery. Numerous retrospectives and reissues have failed to wholly lift that enigmatic veil. Still, any effort to revisit the music of this remarkable artist and individual is one well worth cherishing.
He was, to put it pointedly, like no other indeed. And he’s still mightily missed as well.
AUDIO: Gene Clark “No Other” (version 2)