Pittsburgh Union of Record Geeks electronic

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Mark Olson profile on Aural States

I have been graciously asked to contribute to the Baltimore-based blog Aural States, and my first post there is a profile of Mark Olson (ex-Jayhawks). Check it out!

Monday, April 28, 2008

Please be my friend

If you read this blog, add me on MySpace: http://www.myspace.com/purgegeeks

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

McGuinn shares musical lifetime of songs and stories

Even for a deeply avowed Byrdmaniac, Roger McGuinn is pretty far down the list of the great American singer-songwriters. From his earliest days as an in-demand sideman on the commercial folk circuit, his strongest reputation has always been that of guitarist, arranger, and interpreter--seemingly not much of a way to achieve lasting stature among contemporaries whose pens produced protest anthems that changed a nation, rock poetry that altered the face of popular music, and chart topping hits that still fill the airwaves today.

So how is it then that McGuinn took the stage Saturday at Carnegie Lecture Hall with his place firmly secured among the true legends of the heady past 40-plus years of pop-rock? Because all those years ago, McGuinn had the vision--looking back some might say the audacity--to take hold of the songs of the greatest songwriter this nation has produced and transform them to the extent that Bob Dylan himself couldn't recognize his own compositions when the Byrds' infectious readings were played for him. While occasionally maligned as imitators or ripoff artists, clearly the vast majority of the Byrds' forays into the Dylan songbook have a beauty and importance almost totally separate from the original compositions. When the crowd erupted as McGuinn--still standing in the wings--jangled the opening notes to "My Back Pages" on his trademark 12-string Rickenbacker, it wasn't because a Dylan cover was being played. Nor when he revisited his country arrangement of "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere" from 1968's Sweetheart of the Rodeo, an album that brought the advent of "country-rock" just as "Mr. Tambourine Man"--the Byrds' 1965 number 1 hit debut, which of course prompted a rapturous crowd response--had ushered in "folk-rock."

McGuinn also embraced a Dylan number from beyond the Byrds' cache of classic covers, offering a haunting rendition of "One More Cup of Coffee," his contribution to the soundtrack of last year's Dylan biopic I'm Not There.

But McGuinn's ingenuity with a Dylan tune alone did not put the Byrds in their place as the greatest American rock band. He had the good fortune as well of a chance meeting in L.A.'s Troubadour club in 1964 with perhaps the closest rival to Dylan's songwriting supremacy; and despite generally being sadly unheralded today, the late Gene Clark is also well represented in McGuinn's repertoire. A fantastic surprise and highlight was the version of "She Don't Care About Time"--perhaps Clark's and the Byrds' crowning achievement despite being relegated to the B-side of the group's second chart-topper, "Turn! Turn! Turn!"--complete with McGuinn's faithful reprisal of his spine-tingling baroque-rock solo. Another surprise choice was "You Showed Me," one of the first batch of songs co-written by pre-Byrds Clark and McGuinn and though never issued by the group a hit several times over since.

Clark was back in the set when McGuinn opened the encore with "Feel A Whole Lot Better," a number from the Mr. Tambourine Man lp as important to defining the sound of the early Byrds as the title track was. And while it's rarely acknowledged that Clark was the principal composer of the groundbreaking psych-rock single "Eight Miles High," which closed McGuinn's first set, it was reduced to a single verse here and transformed into an eye-popping (though perhaps slightly self-indulgent) guitar showcase.

While McGuinn and the electric 12-string are virtually synonymous, the majority of his set is now played on a 7-string Martin HD-7 acoustic he designed and calls the "Swiss Army knife of guitars," allowing for an approximation of the jangly sound of the 12-string Rick while allowing as well for blues and country runs, which he illustrated to great effect on Woody Guthrie's "Pretty Boy Floyd" (also from Sweetheart) and several folk-blues numbers from his surprisingly strong 2004 release Limited Edition. McGuinn has made a second career (or fourth or fifth) out of resurrecting nearly forgotten folk and blues tunes for release on his recent albums of traditional music and on the Internet, but one of his oldest folk arrangements, "He Was A Friend of Mine," may have been the highlight of the evening with McGuinn's mournful voice in the hushed auditorium sounding much the way it must have when he first performed his touching version in the wake of the JFK assassination. Each recorded McGuinn version of "Friend" I have heard gives me chills, and he was able to surpass that depth of feeling in person even decades after the fact.

McGuinn peppers his set with anecdotes tracing his lifetime in music from sneaking into Chicago's legendary Gate of Horn folk club as a teenager to see Leadbelly, to rocking up traditional numbers in the Beatles' style in Greenwich Village, to the birth of the Byrds harmonizing in a stairwell with Clark and David Crosby, to Peter Fonda shuttling Dylan's lyrics to "Ballad of Easy Rider" cross-country for McGuinn to complete. It is a story and a legacy of which he plainly is and should be proud. With a little help from his friends and an incisive view of the world of music around him, few have produced a body of work of the quality and importance of Roger McGuinn's, and perhaps none can still deliver the message as well today.

Roger McGuinn's Pittsburgh appearance was part of the Calliope Concert Series.