No Other

In 1964, at age 20, Gene Clark started the Byrds, a group that quickly rose to fame, at least partially because they covered an absurd amount of Bob Dylan/Pete Seeger songs (their first album featured 4 Dylan songs and 1 Seeger song; their second added two more for Dylan and another for Seeger).  When he wasn’t interpreting famous folk-singers, Clark was writing fuzzy, jangly guitar-pop.  But he ditched the Byrds after three albums, starting a solo career where he moved in a different direction, pushing the development of country-rock.  Funnily enough, when Gram Parsons joined the Byrds in 1968, they also started releasing country-rock albums (though Parsons soon left to form a splinter group, the Flying Burrito Brothers, in which he continued revitalizing country music).  Gene Clark put out The Fantastic Expedition Of Dillard And Clark in 1968 and White Light in 1971, which are pleasant enough but can be a bit same-sounding, and are generally less affecting than Gram Parsons’ solo work, which could be particularly gently  beautiful, big and bluesy, or rollicking in the best country-rock fashion.

In 1974, Clark went into a studio in L.A. with a huge cast of successful L.A.-based musicians — a member of the Allman brothers, former colleagues from the Byrds, a thick, soulful set of female backing vocalists, and instrumentalists who had played with everyone from Dylan to Joni Mitchell to Neil Young to Carole King.

The result of these sessions was the album No Other, which did not limit itself to quick little country tunes (though Dillard, with whom Clark earlier had fantastic expeditions, co-wrote a couple songs).  Most of the tracks are around five minutes long; one stretches out to eight.  No Other presages the “L.A. Sound,” later perfected in the smooth, expertly-produced pop that erupted out of that town in the second half of the 70s and forever stigmatized groups like Fleetwood Mac for anyone between the ages of 12 and 30 around 1977.  But Clark isn’t there yet.  He doesn’t seem to mind strange twists.  There are a lot of mid-tempo songs that unfold slowly, with lengthy instrumental intros, and dense harmonies from the backing vocalists.  He’s definitely looking to fill space, in contrast to the rapid pace of most of his Byrds or country tunes, but he knows what he’s doing — things never become pompous or excessively weighty.  It’s an excellent album that maintains a strong continuity across its eight tracks and never falls into a repetitive pattern.

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