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).
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.
The solo career of this great rock artist took awhile to gather some steam; his 1976 album, Cardiff Rose, showed that with at least some consistent production and a tight backing ensemble, he could put across a powerful musical vision without having to rely totally on re-creating the sound of the Byrds. For this 1974 album his focus is as wandering as a glaucoma patient who has just gone through a two-hour field test. Many different influences come into his musical world, like strange cooks passing through a kitchen and dropping odd things into the stew.
THE BYRDS “BYRDS” (’73 REUNION)
The announcement of the reunion album featuring all five original Byrds raised expectations to the point where whatever emerged was almost bound to be an anticlimax. (Imagine the effect of the Beatles reforming around the same time, if you will.) Despite a general thumbs-down from the critics, fan loyalty and eager anticipation made the new long-player highly successful at the record store: in the States, the biggest-selling new-material Byrds album since Turn, Turn, Turn. Subsequent reviews expressed varying degrees of disappointment, but recent re-evaluation with almost forty years of hindsight portrays the project as fascinating historically and not without merit artistically. Interest in it has never waned and it’s been re-released on CD no fewer than four times. The Wikipedia article on it is almost a book.