ALBUM OF THE WEEK - Week of February 16th, 2015

ALBUM OF THE WEEK - Week of February 16th, 2015 - DILLARD & CLARK - The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard & Clark

Back again after taking some time off last week to enjoy the balmy temperatures that have been a staple of yet another winter. After looking at some of the best electronic music albums of 2014 in the past two installments of ALBUM OF THE WEEK I am doing a little focus on the birth of the country rock genre with the 1968 A&M release of The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard & Clark. This release features Doug Dillard of the famous bluegrass family the Dillards and Gene Clark formerly of the Byrds. In retrospect, you can see that both Dillard and Clark were already working in groups that came from a folk background, were well-versed in country music, and most certainly would have stumbled across the whole country rock thing as the Dillards or the Byrds. The Dillards were an Elektra act and everything from 1968's Wheatstraw Grass onward has a slight tinge of the radical rock & roll vision of Jac Holtzman's mighty label. The Byrds teamed up with Gram Parsons the same year and released their finest record - the country tinged Sweetheart of the Rodeo. In fact, a good case could be made that Parsons beat them all to the country rock promised land with the International Submarine Band the previous year, but like most of Parsons' work it went virtually unnoticed in every sector except serious musicians paying attention. Other groups like the Youngbloods, Buffalo Springfield, and the Grateful Dead were definitely looking in that direction as well, but no one really packaged it in such a complete way as to codify the nascent genre as Dillard & Clark did.

I recently picked up the 2008 reissue of the album with three bonus tracks, including a ragged cover of the Elvis hit "Don't Be Cruel" that is to die for and nearly pays for the price of admission here. Many of the usual players are here including Byrds rhythm section Chris Hillman (mandolin) and Michael Clarke (drums) with Bernie Leadon on banjo, who brings the future Eagles' tune "Train Leaves Here This Morning" with him, although this version will quickly make you forget the mellowed out strains of the Don Henley No-Soul Revue. It's obvious when listening to this album, especially "The Radio Song", that this whole country rock thing is going to end up at the Hotel California by the late Seventies. But Andy Belling's harpsichord playing gives this album that classic, roughed-up Sixties psych feel that ties it together with the baroque Arthur Lee stylings of Clark's first post-Byrds attempt - Echoes with the Godsin Brothers. The Fantastic Expedition... represents some of Clark's best work in what turned out to be a very troubled career, dodgy recording output, and a premature exit. Dillard passed in 2012 and turned out to be the banjo playing ambassador for the bluegrass nation, based on the reputation of this album and his subsequent solo work. The music is a beautiful mix of country, rock, folk, and gospel. It's hard to pick a favorite because nearly every tune is a classic but the most recognizable track from the album is "The Radio Song", which features the diverse mix of styles that came to define the genre as played by the Flying Burrito Brothers, Neil Young, and Waylon Jennings just a few years down the road - the whole blueprint for country rock is laid out right here.

Get The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard & Clark here: http://www.discogs.com/Dillard-Clark-The-Fantastic-Expedition-Of-Dillard-Clark/release/1330863

The Radio Song

1 comment:

LD said...

Solid write-up and great album. Gene Clark's voice was a thing of haunting beauty. As for the birth of country-rock, I think it's a little complicated, especially in southern California. Several groups started twangin' it up around the same time (1967-68), so that first country-rock album is difficult to define -- though Safe At Home by the ISB is as good a choice as any. I will say that Clarence White was mixing bluegrass, country, and rock 'n' roll with the Kentucky Colonels as far back as 1965 and in late 1966 did session work with The Byrds and Gene Clark with the Gosdin Brothers, which mostly entailed him laying down sweet country licks on rock songs. Further complicating this is the fact that Buck Owens And His Buckaroos were clearly flirting with country-rock by the mid-'60s and James Burton's guitar had been bringing out the rock in Rick Nelson since the late '50s. Then you had guys like Joe Maphis and the Collins Kids and Jerry Lee Lewis all seamlessly combining country with rock 'n' roll, so it's a slippery slope.