Gene Clark

Gene Clark

Gene Clark

Silverado ’75: Live and Unreleased

Collectors’ Choice Music

It shouldn’t have been like this. No doubt some semblance of those thoughts were swimming through Gene Clark’s mind the night the sublime Silverado ’75 was recorded in some piss-hole in Denver. Where did it all go wrong? Where were the crowds? The money? The fame? Less than a year earlier, Clark had confidently delivered his magnum opus, No Other to David Geffen’s Asylum Records. Clark was rightly convinced that No Other, with its poetic lyrics and lush arrangements, would show them all. That this was the true height of his creative powers. More than his time with the Byrds, whom he’d left about a decade earlier in 1966 after losing a battle of the wills with Roger McGuinn, but not before writing some of their best tunes. He’d show those assholes. Even more than his seminal Dillard and Clark collaboration with Doug Dillard, that melded bluegrass and other traditional music to his questing songs. Yep, nothing could go wrong here. Except for everything.

A vindictive David Geffen hated the record and buried it. Clark only had one option left open to him: Hit the fucking road. So he did, travelling the country for two years in a junky white van with his Silverados — Roger White on guitar and Duke Bardwell on bass and banjo — both seasoned and road-tested musicians. Inspired by the company he was keeping, Clark recast songs from various periods of his career (Byrds, Dillard, No Other) into haunted, minimal, plaintive, sad, glorious Appalachian laments. Warming to his new “circumstances,” he also cooked some new numbers in a similar vein. As Clark never ended up recording any proper material with the Silverados, this album is not only the sole document of the high lonesome sound that he created with this band, but an intriguing snapshot of frazzled lost years in the life of a compelling artist. And yet another proof that great art can come out of personal tribulations and them blues. The recording ain’t all it should be, but the content is continually surprising.

Clark opens the set with murder ballad “Long Black Veil,” also covered by the Band, and the Silverados hit on a much deeper vein of country than I’ve heard from this song before. It sets the pace for the rest of the album; Clark in the lead with his clear, strong, naked voice and spare acoustic strums and twangs, augmented and accented in that telepathic way that only grizzled vets can pull of with minimal electric guitar, bass, banjo and warbly backing vocals. If Clark was frustrated by the unceremonious burial of his masterpiece, it doesn’t show on the sensitive treatment he gives to songs from No Other. The title song is stripped down to dry bones and shimmering guitar interplay, with his Clark belting out the lyrics defiantly, building in strength like a bluesy incantation. Check the solo break (with accompanying “Ow!”) building into a sizzling final verse. “Silver Raven” is incandescent backporch godliness, all gently strummed waves of guitars, and Clark’s voice cracking and breaking with the Silverados joining in with wonderfully flawed falsettos.

The Byrds anthem “Set You Free This Time” becomes a laconic drifter, ready for the Grand Ole Opry, with the verses gradually and slowly unspooling into a long series of images of love as strife and loss and skeletal instrumental support bringing the pain in the lyrics far more to the fore than when concealed under the gentle jangle of the Byrds. As mentioned before, Clark whipped up a batch of new songs for this neverending tour as well, presumably to help kill the pain of his current creatively blocked situation. “Daylight Line” is like a folky, roadhouse hybrid of “Proud Mary” and Gram Parsons, while “Home Run King” is rougher, with aggressive guitars and harmonica flourishes buoying along a vocal melody is very reminisent of CSNY. They even cover Leadbelly’s “In The Pines.” Nice.

Here’s your new favorite cult figure.

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