Roger McGuinn

Cardiff Rose

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On the surface, Roger McGuinn, the former leader and 12-string jangle-meister of the Byrds, and Mick Ronson, who contributed the wicked guitar crunch to David Bowie's Spiders from Mars period, might seem like a wildly unlikely musical combination, but the two became friendly when they both toured as part of Bob Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue, and after that road trip came to a close, Ronson went into the studio with McGuinn to produce his next solo album. The result, 1976's Cardiff Rose, is easily one of McGuinn's finest solo efforts; with fellow Rolling Thunder veterans Rob Stoner, Howie Wyeth, and David Mansfield joining McGuinn and Ronson in the studio, the band sounds tight and enthusiastic from front to back, and while this rocks a good bit harder than the average McGuinn effort, Ronson's six-string swagger never gets in the way of the songs, and Mick's production is unexpectedly sympathetic, adding the right seafaring touches to the pirate tale "Jolly Roger" and coming up with a lovely old-timey arrangement for "Pretty Polly." McGuinn also had a better batch of material at his disposal than on his previous set, Roger McGuinn & Band; he wrote a handful of strong originals, including "Partners in Crime" (a witty salute to Abbie Hoffman, then on the lam), the charging rockers "Rock and Roll Time" and "Take Me Away," and the beautifully atmospheric "Jolly Roger," while he was also lucky enough to receive fine contributions from Bob Dylan ("Up to Me") and Joni Mitchell ("Dreamland"). Sadly, Cardiff Rose didn't fare especially well on the sales charts, which is a shame -- it finds McGuinn in excellent form, and proves he could have moved outside of the musical framework of the Byrds and still had plenty to say with the right collaborators.

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