Saturday, November 29, 2008

Gene Clark: Lady Of The North

Former Byrd Gene Clark is responsible for one of the all-time great albums 'No Other', which until recently was considered one of the great ‘lost’ records of the seventies, along with Dennis Wilson’s equally magnum opus ‘Pacific Ocean Blue’.

How such a remarkable piece of work came to be lost in the first place is the usual seventies story of too much time, money and largesse. As recording costs had ballooned to over $100,000, Geffen basically disowned the album, refusing to do promotion and allowing it go out of print, until the much anticipated first CD pressing in 2003.

With a vast array of session musicians and backing singers, the album was an amalgam of country rock, folk, gospel and soul with poetic, visionary lyrics.

The process for creating the album started when Clark retreated to his coastal home in Mendocino, removing himself from the L.A. party scene. He took a full year in this serene surrounding to compose the eight songs which ended up on the album. Towards the end of writing, Clark set-up a home with old cohort Doug Dillard in the Hollywood Hills. Initially, his wife Carlie Clark and children relocated with him to Los Angeles in the hope that the family routine of Mendocino could be preserved, but Clark had settled back into his old ways of erratic behaviour and his family abandoned him.

The climax of album ‘Lady Of The North’ an ode to the departed Carla was written in this later frantic period . The track itself gets a production of the kitchen sink variety, eclipsing even Brian Wilson for obsessive detail and awe inspiring intricacy. Every second of the song allows for some other instrumental flavour to flourish brightly. This isn’t a case of ‘too many cooks’ though because Clark has the requisite genius to see the bigger picture and weave it all together. The song floats achingly across the American landscape, as Clark sings majestically “passing the shadows of our tears”, matching the epic lyrics with a bold major chord sequence of enormous ambition and hope.

The album met with a tepid critical response and reached a disappointing peak of #144 on the charts with Clark henceforth relegated to relative commercial obscurity. With the failure came bitterness, and he would die of alcoholism-related causes in 1991, sadly underappreciated in his lifetime.

No Other (1974)

1 comment:

Cat said...

One of my favorite of Gene's tunes - especially like the second repeat of the verse - the hushed falsetto voice is simply breathtaking to me....