THE BYRDS – On A Wing: A Compendium Of Historical Performances: Volume 1 (Sound Stage SS8CDBOX48)

On A WingThe Sound Stage label are back with an absolute monster from the vaults, this time in the form of an 8 disc (yes 8 f*uking disc) box set, dedicated to the folk-rock pioneers, The Byrds. Made up of 109 tracks, there is a lot to get through in very little time (and cyber space) so I’ll pick out some of my own highlights and you can decide for yourself what I’ve missed.

Kicking off in 1968, in the wake of the band’s reshuffle, the historically “typical” sound of the Byrds is captured here. For example, renditions of folkie standards like ‘Old Blue’ and the JFK-themed arrangement of ‘He Was A Friend of Mine’ are among the company of the Dylan and Guthrie covers, so often associated with the Byrds. In among these, seep the country elements also associated with the group; of particular note are ‘Nashville West’ and Gram Parsons’ lament, ‘Hickory Wind’.

Parsons features a good deal and particularly on Disc 2, which transports us from November 1968 to June of 1969 and to the Palomino Club, in North Hollywood, where Clarence White joins forces with Parsons and the Flying Burrito Brothers. At times, the sound really isn’t great, but the excitement of the moment comes across and at times it is hard trying not to get caught up in the concert, even if just as a listener…some near 50 years later.

‘The Train Song’ is an upbeat, energetic and that spur of the moment vibe still spills out through the speakers and jumps from one feeling to another; to that of the wild ‘Dream Baby’ or the laid bare and lonesome ‘She Once Lived Here’ or ‘Black Limousine’…yet the atmosphere reuses to die. Disc 3 continues the same performance and while the inconsistencies in the sound remain the main source of complaint, numbers like ‘Sweet Mental Revenge’, ‘Another Place, Another Time’ and an otherwise brilliant version of Merle Haggard’s ‘Hungry Eyes’ remain among the high points.

The halfway stage of this set takes us to some more intimate gigs, beginning with David Crosby, at the Matrix (December ’70) on Disc 4. On this occasion, he’s joined by members of The Grateful Dead to perform a mixture of freshly penned solo material (‘Cowboy Movie’ and ‘Laughing’ for example) and some interesting takes on standards like ‘Deep Elm Blues’. It is slow, more spacious and guides us in perfectly to Disc 5; a Roger McGuinn set from 1974, after the Byrds had finally parted. This one in particular, is a real treat. Alone on stage, McGuinn stands equipped with a guitar and harmonica, running down his Byrd-loyal set of 60s pop hits, traditional numbers and of course, the odd bit of Dylan. From his own work, ‘Bag Full Of Money’ is particularly good.

Disc 6 is probably the rockiest of all the collection, emanating from Amarillo, Texas and featuring McGuinn, Gene Clark and Chris Hilman, alongside a crew of session players. The familiar formula of Byrds big hitters and contemporary efforts is used here, and ‘Turn, Turn, Turn’ turns up, surprisingly, for the first time. Of equal note on this disc, are the messy, audience participation-led version of ‘You Ain’t Going Nowhere’ and ‘Stopping Traffic’.

The final discs take us to Gene Clark and The Fyrebirds, circa 1985. ‘Come All Ye Fair and Tender Ladies; and ‘Tried So Hard’ stand out on Disc7, while Disc 8 builds slowly, through the likes of ‘Here Without You’, ‘She Don’t Care About Time’ and ‘See Your Face’, into the slightly heavier country-rock tinged ‘Dixie Flower’ and ‘One Hundred Years From Now’ and bidding a fitting adieu on Byrds-shaped classics ‘So You Wanna Be A Rock ’n’ Roll Star’ and ‘Eight Miles High’.

Byrds On A Wing…is something of a journey, but a delightful one. Spanning the 8 hour mark, there is a lot to take in. Naturally, there are a few tracks which repeat from time to time, but they’re not unwelcome and even at that, each of them are done with such a different style and approach, they feel completely different to their predecessors.

Christopher James Sheridan

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David Crosby announces new solo album – Sky Trails

David Crosby

David Crosby is set to release his new solo album Sky Trails – his third solo album in four years – on September 29th via BMG. Sky Trails continues Crosby’s unexpected late-period resurgence; in his eighth decade, Crosby is not only surviving, but thriving personally and creatively.

The album takes Crosby in a new musical direction as the set tilts toward a full band sound and deep, soulful grooves. “It’s a natural thing for me,” says Crosby, who joyously embraced the challenge of the shifting song structures. “I’ve always felt more comfortable there. There’s complexity, intricacy and subtleties in the music. I like that stuff.”

The core of the band are saxophonist Steve Tavaglione, bassist Mai Agan, drummer Steve DiStanislao, and Crosby’s son, multi-instrumentalist James Raymond, who also produced the album. Crosby and Raymond recorded some of the songs at Raymond’s home studio and then moved to Jackson Browne’s Groove Masters studio in Santa Monica for tunes that feature the full band.

Sky Trails follows last year’s critically acclaimed Lighthouse – which received praise from outlets including Rolling Stone, Stereogum and NPR Music – which was preceded by 2014’s Croz, Crosby’s first solo album in 20 years. Though Crosby wrote many of the songs for Sky Trails as he was working on Lighthouse, the two are distinctly different projects. “Lighthouse was conspicuously and deliberately acoustic,” Crosby says. “Sky Trails was intended to be a full band record from the start.”

At 75, Crosby remains as engaged and energized as ever, with no end in sight. The creative floodgates that opened a few years ago continue to flow and Crosby delights that the songs are still pouring forth. He doesn’t think too hard about why the muse has alighted upon him at this late stage in his career, but offers up that perhaps once CS&N ended, “there was a lot of pent-up creative juice. It’s as if I’d been in a dark room and someone turned on the lights,” he says. “I don’t want to take it for granted, but it’s been absolutely amazing.”

In Crosby’s unparalleled six-decade career, the native Californian has created songs that resonate as indelible cultural touchstones for more than three generations, not only as a solo artist, but as a founding member of The Byrds in the mid-60s, Crosby, Stills & Nash (recipients of the Grammy for best new artist in 1969), and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. He’s collaborated with dozens of artists, including Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour, Phil Collins, Elton John and Carole King.

The folk rock pioneer, who was inducted into the prestigious Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2009, has also served as our social conscience, not only eloquently writing about societal issues on such songs as “Almost Cut My Hair” and “Wooden Ships,” but continuously donating concert proceeds to like-minded causes. His towering influence and brilliant ability to capture the spirit of our times in his music remains undiminished.

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SHAWN COLVIN – Uncovered (Fantasy 0888072374157)

SHAWN COLVIN UncoveredAt some point in time, many an artist has released a collection of covers, usually songs celebrating their influences and inspirations, often, also conjuring a simple campfire or living room singalong with friends. This is Colvin’s second, following on from 1994’s Cover Girl, and, again a tip of the hat to the days playing the clubs and bars singing others’ songs before she found success with her own material, although, there’s nothing here that would have been in her repertoire of the time.

Co-produced by Eagles guitarist Steuart Smith, who did the previous album, and Stewart Lerman, it’s a simple acoustic affair with a couple of special guests joining her on vocals for two numbers. First up is one of my all-time favourite Springsteen songs, ‘Tougher Than The Rest’, Colvin retaining the gender of the narrator, but exposing even more the vulnerability behind the macho pose of the lyrics. Indeed. The early running plays the familiarity card, following on with a beautifully world-weary, almost confessional tone reading of Paul Simon’s ‘American Tune’ before being joined by a muted David Crosby on the chorus for Gerry Rafferty’s signature tune, ‘Baker Street’. Now, this may be sacrilege in some quarters, but I was never a big fan of the original; however, here, stripped down to the bone with Glenn Fukunaga’s upright bass and guitar tapped hand percussion, and devoid of the sax flourish (replaced by lap steel), it takes on a late night bluesy resignation that flags up the sense of dislocation and alienation.

The second guest appearance comes from Marc Cohn who joins her to provide harmonies on a smoulderingly intimate, country soul arrangement of Brenton Wood’s ‘Gimme Little Sign’, again underpinned by laid back hand percussion.

The other choices are probably not so well known to the mainstream even if the writers are. Graham Nash provides another CS&N connection with a pedal steel streaked, resonant acoustic guitar arrangement ofI Used To Be A King’ which follows directly on from a gorgeous , emotionally wrought version of the Brennan/Waits love ballad ‘Hold On’, the chorus having an almost hymnal quality, Colvin delivering some of the lines in an almost chokingly spoken tone.

Crowded House’s Neil Finn a rhythmically choppy provides ‘Private Universe’ before a surprising interpretation of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Heaven Is Ten Zillion Light Years Away’ off Fulfillingness’ First Finale, transforming it from a gospel soul groove into a slow, late night acoustic blues that reminds me greatly of Clive Gregson’s ‘Touch And Go’.

Again, while critically acclaimed, written by Robbie Robertson and originally on Northern Lights – Southern Cross, ‘Arcadian Driftwood’, a song about the expulsion of the Arcadians during the war between the French and the English over present day Nova Scotia is probably one of the lesser known Band numbers, and Colvin’s six and a half minute version brings the haunting lyrics about dispossession into full relief.

Originally the B side of Creedence Clearwater revival classic ‘Bad Moon Rising’, John Fogarty’s ‘Lodi’ has seen many a cover, from Emmylou to Tom Jones, and, featuring both jangling acoustic and plangent electric guitars, it’s the most full bodied , country-rock track here and another strong notch to the song’s CV.

Texan-born Robert Earl Keen is something of a cult figure in folk-country circles, but, regarded as one of the great contemporary dust bowl songs, ‘Not A Drop Of Rain’, the collection’s penultimate track, is certainly one of his best known numbers and Colvin picks out a fine version here. The album closes on a classic country ballad note, looking back to 1973 and the dreamy-sounding ‘Til I Get It Right’, a country chart topper for Tammy Wynette that hews close to the original, but with pedal steel rather than strings and a slightly more torch quality.

As this month’s Ryan Adams release of his rework of Taylor Swift’s 1989 amply illustrates, cover version albums have a mixed history, but Colvin’s most definitely weights the balance in their favour.

Mike Davies

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Here’s Shawn’s trailer video for Uncovered: