(HIGH MOON RECORDS/RSO RECORDS; reissue 2014, original release 1977)
Reading Gene Clark’s Wikipedia entry is an exercise in frustration, another classic case of a prominent musician suffering the pitfalls of inadequate promotion, dashed expectations, poor timing, et cetera. A founding member of the Byrds, one of the most influential bands of the ’60s, Clark surely deserved better than the checkered solo career he endured after essentially leaving that band in 1966. Clark wrote or co-wrote some of the best-known Byrds tunes, such as “Eight Miles High,” “She Don’t Care About Time” and “Set You Free This Time,” helping to pioneer some of the early country rock stylings with a twist that the Byrds became known for. But his solo work, although gaining critical favor in some circles with quality offerings like 1971’s WHITE LIGHT and 1974’s NO OTHER, seemed to always fall short commercially or have some record label “issue” that confounded Clark’s hopes. The 1977 release TWO SIDES TO EVERY STORY was an introspective album that partially documented the fallout of Clark’s divorce at the time, and though very listenable, it was ill served by the first CD version in the early 90s, which many fans complained about (record labels tended to rush out CDs in the early days of that format with little concern about the sound or pressing issues; pun intended). But now TWO SIDES… has been given a deluxe remastering by High Moon, and Clark’s stellar songwriting shines through at last.
Things kick off with the rousing banjo picking of “Home Run King,” and Clark’s engaging vocals. I was struck by how much Clark’s voice reminded me of Mike Nesmith’s from the Monkees. It’s well-known that Nesmith was a fan of country rock, and you gotta think he was a fan of stuff like Gene Clark and Gram Parsons in particular. “In the Pines” features classic fiddle, keyboards and female backing vocals, and is bursting with energy. Evidently, this is a traditional folk/blues song, although an online note says the song may have initially been composed by blues great Leadbelly. “Kansas City Southern” is a terrific train song that Clark had previously recorded with Dillard and Clark, and it rocks pretty madly here, with fiery guitar work. It’s also more than a little evocative of John Fogerty’s CCR stuff. A cover of the James Talley mining ballad “Give My Love to Marie” makes for one of the most achingly sad numbers here. Clark’s voice is way upfront, and the string section combines with it (and some very spartan drumming) to induce shivers. Truly beautiful, actually. The following “Sister Moon” suffers by comparison; it aims for subtlety, but the big backing vocals and strings again don’t serve it particularly well. “Mary Lou” is an overdone cover that, while energetic, is emotionally empty in context. The straight, traditional country numbers here such as “Lonely Saturday” and “Hear the Wind” are much better, the kind of tunes Clark was known for, with strong melodies and pleasing arrangements. “We talk and hear about loneliness/The cold blue hunger of the soul,” Clark sings on that latter track, which delivers its pathos with pedal steel and piano in timeless fashion. Sometimes a line like that can really overpower you, in a way you weren’t prepared for.
“Past Addresses” and “Silent Crusade” are the sound of heartbreak; with slivers of haunted sentiments that Clark sometimes seems reluctant to fully release. “I am told that my life is a clipper/The sea of time has tossed about/And I know that there’s only one skipper/Who can guide that ship about, he wearily intones on “Silent Crusade,” as a lonesome keyboard punctuates his simple guitar picking. Nothing like a tough breakup to make you feel you’re adrift at sea, I guess. There is something timeless about this brand of Clark-ian songcraft, and when you realize the guy died at the tender age of 46, probably falling well short of his dreams, you’re in true melancholy territory. That distinctive voice and his often pioneering sound surely would’ve matured and given us so much more if he had lived a few more decades. At any rate, this is a fine reissue of a neglected album, and purchasers also get to download a generous selection of bonus live material. It’s not ALL wonderful, but there is definitely stuff here that is essential in grasping Gene Clark’s rightful place in the Americana/singer-songwriter scheme of things. He was there when both those categories were first being conceived, and that ain’t no small thing.