Saturday, May 28, 2016
MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: SKYDIGGERS - HERE WITHOUT YOU - THE SONGS OF GENE CLARK
Our beloved Skydiggers, no slouches in the songwriting department, throw us a curve ball with their latest, a collection of songs written by the most enigmatic Byrd, Gene Clark. In a band with big personalities (Roger McGuinn, David Crosby), and big hits written by Dylan, in the first couple of years of the group Clark's songwriting still managed to stand out. His pop/folk melodies partially obscured a sadness and sophistication in his lyrics, and his standing seems to increase every year. Even though he quit the band just a couple of years into their run, and languished in relative obscurity until his untimely death in 1991, he was probably the best songwriter The Byrds produced.
The Skydiggers go for stripped down and emotional arrangements of the eight Clark-penned tunes here. For the most part it's Andy Maize singing lead, Josh Finlayson on ukulele and guitar, and Jessy Bell Smith on harmonies, who has been elevated to full band member status. They are ably helped by producer Michael Timmins, sound doctor Joshua Van Tassel on moody "sonics", and the occasional extra guitar and such, but basically it's an acoustic-plus-vocals album, Maize and Smith a moody pair.
The sparer arrangements let us focus on the advanced wordplay Clark was fitting in these songs, especially for 1965-66. Since the songs sat side-by-side with Dylan numbers, they didn't get all the attention deserved then, or now really. Tom Petty covering Feel A Whole Lot Better helped for sure, and we get that cut here without the bounce, pretty sophisticated for the time as a break-up song with the deal-breaker going unmentioned: "The reason why oh I can't say." She Don't Care About Time is another deceptively simple tune, seemingly kid-friendly ('don't' instead of the proper 'doesn't'), but its main theme worthy of the aforementioned Dylan: "And she'll always be there, my love don't care about time."
By not going all jingle-jangle on these cuts, especially the most familiar (8 Miles High), The Skydiggers also play to their best strengths. Andy Maize has an ability to draw us in, entrance us, and hold us on every word. The group has found and highlighted the mysterious blue in Clark's music.