(Untitled) / (Unissued)

The Byrds

Epic / Legacy Records, 1970


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Dan Smith has been doing a great job looking at the recent slew of re-issues from The Byrds - so I hope he won't mind if I cut in on the dance for a moment.

You see, while I've appreciated the work of Roger McGuinn and crew, I never really developed a major fascination with the band. Over the years, I've picked up the occasional used Byrds record, but due to time constraints (as well as the fact my daughter always wants to play "Chutes And Ladders"), these platters have sat idly in the halls of the Pierce Memorial Archives.

I recently was sent one of the latest reissues, (Untitled) / (Unissued), the group's 1970 return-to-form release that re-established the band as a serious musical force - even if the band was teetering toward their eventual dissolution. I have the original two-record set in the Archives - and, yes, it's one of the records that has been collecting dust. But after listening to this two-CD set, I've spent a relaxing afternoon kicking myself in the ass - and I mean with steel-toe boots - for not realizing just how good McGuinn and company could be.

If you only listen to the originally-issued material on disc one, you're still ahead of the game. A combination of live tracks and new studio recordings, The Byrds - McGuinn, Clarence White, Gene Parsons and Skip Battin - remind people real quickly that while this isn't the same band that recorded hits like "Mr. Tambourine Man," they still were a powerful band that demanded to be dealt with. Quite a bit of the Dylan-like folk influence was gone (even though there's still plenty of homage paid to Dylan's songs here), as was most of the country-rock that McGuinn eventually found favor in (again, there's spatterings here).my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Keep in mind: not only had the band seen more members come and go like a revolving door at the local Safeway, but the musical current had turned the band on its ears more than once. By the time (Untitlted) originally came out, the world had lived through the Summer Of Love and the controlled explosion known as Woodstock. There was a sense of urgency in The Byrds's music at this time - a last gasp effort to tap the wells of popular music, if you will.

Fortunately for all of us, they succeeded. The live material flashes back a bit to the old days of the group, with songs like "Mr. Tambourine Man" and "So You Want To Be A Rock 'N' Roll Star" flashing across the stage. But the surprises came in two areas. First, the newer music like "Lover Of The Bayou" took the lessons the band learned throughout their career and poured it into a new style of music. Second, there is an embracement of jazz as heard on the extended jams in "Eight Miles High," a bass-and-drum frenzy that challenges everyone to kick things to a new level.

But if you think that all the ammunition is spent on stage, the studio tracks will floor you. Granted, I've never liked the song "Chestnut Mare" - and hearing it again doesn't change my opinion of this song. But the remainder of the material is simply astounding. From the sheer beauty of Parsons's vocal on "Yesterday's Train" (a reminder that The Byrds hadn't abandoned country-fried pop) to the anger of a track like "Welcome Back Home," McGuinn and crew slice through these tracks like a hot knife through a pound of butter. Were these guys still influential? Oh, yes.

The second disc is a little more hit-and-miss, but more often does strike the target. Alternate versions of "All The Things" and "Yesterday's Train" are pretty, but they do not distract from the sheer genius of the takes that were featured on the original release. The studio version of "Lover Of The Bayou" sounds a little more sinister than the live version, and you can understand why it was included. The cover of Lowell George's "Willin'" is good, even if the chorus threw me off a bit because it was sung a little differently than I'm used to.

The remainder of the unissued material is taken from the stage - and here is where some of the shine starts to come off a bit. Hearing tracks like "My Back Pages" and a live version of "Take A Whiff On Me" is good, and their version of "Jesus Is Just Alright" is pleasant enough. But when it comes to hearing tracks like "It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)" and "Ballad Of Easy Rider," it almost sounds like The Byrds are going through the motions a bit. Worthy of note is the live version of "Old Blue," a song I wasn't particularly fond of until I heard this version.

(Untitled) / (Unissued) is not only a reminder of how important The Byrds were to American music, the disc was a sign to everyone in 1970 that McGuinn and crew were by no means ready to relegate themselves to the background. Even if this disc was their last big gasp at the brass ring, they wanted to make sure that they would go out with a flourish. (It, of course, was not their last album; two more discs followed before the band finally called it a day in 1973.)

Rating: A-

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© 2000 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Epic / Legacy Records, and is used for informational purposes only.