By 1975, Roger McGuinn had reached a bit of an artistic crossroads. His first two post-Byrds albums, 1973’s Roger McGuinn and 1974’s Peace On You, had fared poorly. So for his third solo effort he hired members of a Texas group called Lone Star and loosened the bandleader’s reins a bit. As outlined in veteran scribe Jud Cost’s detailed liner notes for Sundazed’s remastered Roger McGuinn & Band, however, the strategy proved flawed. The record does contain a handful of gems that should rightly be included on any McGuinn compilation, chiefly an updating of the old Byrds concert showpiece “Lover of the Bayou” and the strings-and-pedal-steel-adorned ballad “Easy Does It.” McGuinn also returned to the Dylan songwriting well that had served the Byrds so ably with a cover of “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.” But by letting the session players contribute half of the material, the album’s an uneasy, at times schizophrenic, compromise. Speaking of which, “Lisa,” a McGuinn tune, offers conclusive evidence that white rock ’n’ rollers should never, ever attempt calypso. Extras: A pair of superb bonus tracks help redeem the record, live from ’76 versions of Byrds classics “Chestnut Mare” and “Wasn’t Born to Follow” featuring McGuinn and his touring ensemble Thunderbyrd.
Cardiff Rose is a mare of a wholly different color. After wrapping up roadwork with Dylan’s 1975-76 Rolling Thunder Revue, McGuinn immediately hit the studio with producer/multi-instrumentalist Mick Ronson and several other musicians from the Revue. The uptick in both inspiration and energy is palpable from the get-go; “Take Me Away” is a rousing powerpopper that’s quickly followed by the epic-in-feel shanty-rock of “Jolly Roger.” Other highlights include an impassioned version of Dylan’s “Up to Me” and a kind of neo-orchestral, Celtic-psychedelic take on Joni Mitchell’s “Dreamland” (at the time the former remained unreleased by Dylan, while her song had yet to be recorded by Mitchell). As notesman Cost rightly observes, Cardiff was a “masterwork that stands as a high watermark in McGuinn’s solo career.” Extras: Another live Thunderbyrd cut, Mitchell’s “Dreamland” again, plus an acoustic-flavored studio demo of “Soul Love” — yes, the Bowie tune from Ziggy Stardust, one undoubtedly brought in by producer Ronson. Nice touch, that.
Fred Mills writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].