THE BYRDS: FARTHER ALONG (1971)
1) Tiffany Queen; 2) Get Down Your Line; 3) Farther Along; 4) B. B. Class Road; 5) Bugler; 6) America's Great National Pastime; 7) Antique Sandy; 8) Precious Kate; 9) So Fine; 10) Lazy Waters; 11) Bristol Steam Convention Blues.
The last album by «The Roger McGuinn Experience» tends to be the band's most despised (contending for this position with Byrdmaniax). It signified the band's complete fall-off from the charts, the shame being exacerbated and perpetuated by the idiotic choice of releasing ʻAmerica's Great National Pastimeʼ as the lead (and only) single — a slightly funny, but also sort of obnoxious vaudeville number from the Battin/Fowley team, not to mention that its somewhat unjustly derogatory lyrics may have detracted listeners as well (I mean, the song satirizes a certain segment of American population, but why American? "One of America's great national pastimes is cutting the grass / Grabbing some ass / Living too fast" — could be said about quite a few other countries as well, if it needed to be said in the first place).
Anyway, the truth is, Farther Along is certainly not worse than anything else produced by the White-era Byrds, and although it lacks serious ambition, I actually prefer this laid-back, simple atmosphere to the unsuccessful attempt at epicness that was Untitled. There, the band overreached, going on a sprawl without having the proper means, vision, or talent pool to back it up. Here, the band is just having itself a good time. There is no «flash» whatsoever, and none of these songs probably had what it takes to catch the public eye in 1972 (although that still does not mean that prioritizing ʻNational Pastimeʼ was a wise choice by any means); but in retrospect, Farther Along just feels like a bunch of nice musicians... well, engaging in one of America's great national pastimes, I guess.
Ironically, of all the late-era Byrds catalog this album probably comes closest to fulfilling McGuinn's original dream for Sweetheart — the «musical encyclopaedia of Americana» — featuring excursions in straight country, blues-rock, folk, vaudeville, Fifties' rock, and R&B, all of it taken in the most straightforward manner. And as they so openly steal, beg, or borrow, it happens to mostly work. ʻTiffany Queenʼ is introduced with the classic ʻSatisfactionʼ / ʻMr. Soulʼ / ʻJumpin' Jack Flashʼ riff (all roads lead to Rome), but then almost immediately becomes Chuck Berry's ʻLet It Rockʼ, done McGuinn-style, and on some level it is hilarious to hear McGuinn do the Chuck Berry schtick (more hilarious, anyway, than listening to Gene Parsons sounding all rough-and-rocky on the pub boogie number ʻB. B. Class Roadʼ). The Johnny Otis cover ʻSo Fineʼ technically destroys the Fiestas' original from 1959 — as good as that one was, here the boys do a much stronger job smoothing out and sharpening the vocal harmonies (even with these new-look Byrds, nobody beats them at harmonies). And Larry Murray's ʻBuglerʼ, yet another dog-oriented song, is done very close to the original, but improves on it in many small, subtle details (though, of course, country lovers might want to prefer the «rougher», «rawer» original — fact is, I think Roger McGuinn loves dogs as much as Larry Murray does, if not more, so it is not a set fact here that the original songwriter necessarily must sing this with more feeling).
There's not a lot of original material here at all (another reason, supposedly, for the album feeling like such a letdown in 1972), but of the two McGuinn originals, ʻAntique Sandyʼ is very nice: basically just one folksy melodic line over and over, but a warm, tender, and catchy one, quite tolerable for two minutes and sounding particularly beautiful when taken over from the singer by a cozily sustained piano. (ʻTiffany Queenʼ is the other original, although I'm not sure exactly how original it is in the first place; a joint lawsuit from Chuck and Keith would not be out of order). Most importantly, there's very little about the record that I could call openly bad — ʻB. B. Class Roadʼ does sound a little phoney (not even the beards could make the Byrds get that rough-and-tough feel), and ʻNational Pastimeʼ is good for not more than one listen, but everything else ranges from pleasant to... very pleasant.
Cutting a long story short, Farther Along is slight, but fun, which, at that time, worked better for the Byrds than serious, but boring. It was probably inevitable that the White/Battin/Parsons line-up would crackle and dissipate after they became a commercial non-entity with no particular place to go (actually, the real reason was the perspective of a possible reunion for the original Byrds), but I'm pretty sure that there is still some demand for unambitious, unpretentious, run-of-the-mill nice quality music from the early Seventies, and this record is a good candidate, so a friendly, not too excited thumbs up here.