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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