In the liner notes to Sundazed's reissue of Roger McGuinn & Band, the former Byrds leader says, "A band should be a benevolent dictatorship," adding, "Democracy is a great form of government, but it doesn't work in rock & roll." Whether you agree with that statement or not, Roger McGuinn & Band is one album that supports McGuinn's argument pretty well; in 1975, after his first two solo albums were greeted with lackluster commercial and critical response, Columbia Records assigned producer John Boylan to McGuinn's next project, and Boylan brought along a band.
Roger McGuinn's 1973 self-titled solo debut was in most respects a breath of fresh air after the final days of the Byrds, in which the group was floundering in directionless mediocrity. In a sense, it's a back-to-basics album that emphasizes much of what McGuinn does so well: his forceful reedy vocals, his guitar playing, and his skills at both writing earnest folk-rock material (usually with future Bob Dylan collaborator Jacques Levy here) and interpreting unusual traditional and contemporary songs.
The second McGuinn, Clark & Hillman album turned into a McGuinn-Hillman album "featuring Gene Clark" when the latter dropped out of the tour ahead of it and then only contributed to two songs on this record, one of which was ironically called "Won't Let You Down." Apart from Clark's two songs, none of this really sounds much like the Byrds, although the stuff is pleasant late-'70s Byrds-influenced rock, sort of folky at its best moment and driven by McGuinn's mournful lead vocals and the soaring harmonies. "One More Chance" was the most Byrds-like of the non-Gene Clark numbers, and "City" was a good song, but, ironically, the two Gene Clark numbers were the best on the record, as good as anything he ever wrote after leaving the Byrds – and this CD is the only way to get them (they didn't make it onto Edsel's anthology).
Gene Clark was one of the most gifted singers and songwriters of his generation, but bad luck and self-destructive habits followed him like a shadow, and it seemed sadly appropriate that he died in the spring of 1991 as he was working on a follow-up to the biggest success of his solo career, So Rebellious a Lover, his 1987 collaboration with Carla Olson of the Textones. Clark's poor health (aggravated by drinking) and fear of flying prevented a full-scale tour in support of So Rebellious a Lover, but he played scattered live dates after its release, and In Concert gathers recordings from shows Clark gave in late 1988 and early 1990.
Following his high-water mark of Cardiff Rose, McGuinn's Thunderbyrd is a bit of a letdown. While most of the tracks are covers ranging from Dylan to Peter Frampton to George Jones to Tom Petty's "American Girl," the songs all have a sort of weariness to them which detracts from what should have been a great effort. His last solo disc for a long, long time.
On the surface, Roger McGuinn, the former leader and 12-string jangle-meister of the Byrds, and Mick Ronson, who contributed the wicked guitar crunch to David Bowie's Spiders from Mars period, might seem like a wildly unlikely musical combination, but the two became friendly when they both toured as part of Bob Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue, and after that road trip came to a close, Ronson went into the studio with McGuinn to produce his next solo album.