Sunday, November 11, 2012

Going On A Country Rock "Expedition" With Dillard & Clark


The late 60s through the mid 70s saw the rise of country rock, with artists as diverse as Bob Dylan, Emmylou Harris, The Eagles, Gram Parsons, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Neil Young, Linda Ronstadt, Poco and even ex-Monkee Mike Nesmith contributing to the genre. One of the best albums to come out of this era is Dillard & Clark’s 1968 release The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard & Clark. It’s considered one of the classics of the sound, which combined elements of rock, folk and traditional country. The group was founded by Gene Clark, a former member of The Byrds (themselves no strangers to country rock) and Doug Dillard, who had just left his family’s bluegrass outfit, The Dillards.

They recorded the album with some talented collaborators, including guitarist Bernie Leadon, who went on to join The Eagles, and bassist Chris Hillman, who had also been part of The Byrds. Hillman & Leadon also helped form The Flying Burrito Brothers, another well regarded country rock band. The album is awash with the sounds of banjo, fiddle and organ, and there are some fantastic songs, including the opener “Out On The Side,” and “Train Leaves Here This Mornin,” which Leadon later covered during his stint with The Eagles.

This is old-fashioned country & bluegrass, shot through with a dose of rock & roll. Much of the music here is also folk flavored & on the melancholy side, including the amazing “She Darked The Sun,” “Something’s Wrong” and the wonderful Clark tune “Why Not Your Baby?” which is included on CD reissues of the album as a bonus track. It’s one of the most poignant songs ever recorded. The songwriting by Clark, Dillard & Leadon, ranks with the best of the genre. There’s some stunning musicianship here; the playing and singing is stellar, and you can hear the influences these musicians had on other artists who visited these soundscapes in their careers.

The group only recorded one other album together; the 1969 follow up Through The Morning, Through The Night, which leans even more heavily toward the bluegrass sound. It wasn’t as well-received as their debut, but there are still some wonderful songs, including the title track and covers of The Everly Brothers classic “So Sad” and The Beatles “Don’t Let Me Down.” Both albums are available on one CD, which also includes the group’s singles. While the albums are available as separate releases, I highly recommended the “two-fer” disc, which provides you with the group’s entire recorded output on one CD.

Sadly, Gene Clark left us in 1991, and Doug Dillard passed away this past May. But they left behind a musical legacy (in their various projects together & separately) that still touches listeners to this day. I have to admit I hadn't heard the album until recently (though I'd enjoyed both artists' work with their other groups, and the 1994 Velvet Crush cover of "Why Not Your Baby?" is one of my favorite songs), but I've been listening to the album regularly since discovering it. If you’re a fan of country-flavored rock, which has seen a resurgence in the past few years with the success of groups like The Avett Brothers, Fleet Foxes, Mumford & Sons and The Zac Brown Band, you owe to yourself to check out The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard & Clark. It’s truly an aural journey worth taking. You won't be disappointed with this excellent record by these truly wonderful artists.

Here are links to “Why Not Your Baby?” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7JqEuUEHxCk and “Train Leaves Here This Mornin & In The Plan” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o9GQDKkhAas

Next time: Bond is Back

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